The Moment Skinny Dipping Transformed My Life

Cotton t-shirt, jeans and sneakers.

Physically I was not prepared for this 12-mile backpacking trip through Colorado’s Maroon Bells.

But spiritually? I was primed.

It was my first semester at Mesa State College. I was 17 years old and hadn’t yet grown into my body. I was gangly, awkward and had no friends.

I went to college armed with the best piece of advice I ever got (and one I still use to this day): “All you have to do is ask.” As usual, that wisdom came from my mommy.

My mother – whose husband left her a year after giving birth to me – had successfully navigated raising a child by herself while starting a bookkeeping career in the early 90s. Needless to say, she knew a few things, which I normally ignored. But for some reason this one stuck.

One day I walked through the Mesa student union and crossed the path of a door with a familiar smell — outdoor gear. You know that scent that wafts when you stuff 12 NRS rafts in a garage? Stopped me in my tracks.

I walked in. The people working the desk were way cooler than I could ever imagine myself being. They wore strange clothes, sunglasses with straps and were talking about a rapid called “Taco Bell.”

All you have to do is ask.

Soon I was booked on my first Mesa State Outdoor Program trip. I’d done some camping with my Boy Scout troop, but I realize now that I was wholly unprepared for the trip. Four pairs of jeans, four t-shirts, a hoodie and cotton underwear would cut it, I reasoned. Oh, and can’t forget a pair of flip-flops.

Our minivan carved through Colorado, making its way to the town of Gothic, where we hit the trail. Around every bend I took a snapshot with my disposable camera. As we approached our campsite I felt sick, sweaty and sore. Then I puked.

Brian Beautiful Mountain LakeI pitched the tent and fell asleep immediately. Four hours later I woke and absorbed the view: a glacial blue mountain lake untouched by man.

A girl I met earlier that morning sat down next to me. Monica was much older than me. And she wasn’t bad looking, either.

“Brian,” she said. “You want to go swimming?”

“Didn’t bring my swimming trunks,” I said.

She just smiled.

I’d never been skinny dipping, per se. But, I was on a roll. Here I was, way over my head in the backcountry with a bunch of people I didn’t know. This was such a reach for me.

For years I’d always felt inadequate. Boy Scouts had helped that a lot, but never knowing my dad has left me with a perpetual felling of being lost.

About every 18 months I’ll go through a period of feelings I can only describe as what it’d be like to fly a Boeing 747 without any instruments. Being alone for the first time in my life exacerbated those feeling, and college was suffocating at times.

I could have holed up in my dorm room, playing video games and eating pizza all day long. But I’d learned: All you have to do is ask.

So I asked Monica, “Didn’t bring my swimming trunks … did you?”

“Nope,” she said, still smiling.

As I ran toward the edge of that kick-your-breath-out-of-your-body-like-a-SWAT-Team-through-a-front-door-cold lake, I smiled too.

When my bare bottom hit the water, knees tucked to chin in classic fat guy cannonball fashion, I wasn’t thinking about my dad. I wasn’t thinking about the things that could hold me back in life.

When I pulled my head up and gasped for air, I realized how many more experiences like this I wanted in my life. I wanted to keep reaching.

When I feel lost.

When I want to crawl out of my skin.

When I’m unsure of myself.

I think of that moment.