Taking the hot springs plunge
The way to go at Breitenbush is with the flow
Our first Breitenbush Hot Springs experience included swimsuits.
That's not the norm there, but for my husband, Joe, and I, it's not the norm to walk around naked around anyone but each other.
We arrived on a rainy Sunday evening in early April. The last leg of the trip was along a decent stretch of an unimproved gravel-dirt road, a little snow reminding us that winter was just recently there.
We didn't know what to expect. We knew we had to bring our own bedding, so one of my concerns was the kind of sleeping accommodations we would have. I was hoping for a bed with a mattress, but half expected a wooden plank. Would there be electricity? Would there be heat? A bathroom, running water?
Dinner was served at 5 p.m., I was told, and it was 6:30 p.m. when we arrived. Would we still get to eat? Another worry.
We pulled into the very wet, very muddy parking lot and noticed carts to haul our stuff with. This was good, because even though this was a one-night stay, between our sleeping bags, pillows, in-case-of-emergency junk food (cookies, nuts, juice, Swedish fish) and our swimsuits, we had a pile of stuff to haul.
But first, dinner at the lodge. It's served buffet style until 7 p.m. The spread included lots of very organic-looking food-grains, fresh veggies, tea. I'm not vegetarian, and Joe really isn't vegetarian. We ate rice, salad and pasta.
We were pleasantly surprised to find, in our small cabin, three beds with mattresses, electric lights, a sink and a small bathroom. We quickly unloaded our stuff from the cart, put on our swimming suits and headed out into the evening in search of the hot springs. The sun was going down, but we had just enough light to follow the map to three natural springs.
Because it was Sunday night and the retreat center was closing the next day for a staff meeting, the place was pretty quiet. The first hot spring was occupied by one naked bather. On to the next one. More naked bathers. Joe and I looked at each other and quietly moved on to the 'silent pool' farther on.
We had it to ourselves. The stone lined pool built into the ground was perfectly hot with a perfect view of an open meadow and the Breitenbush River. The clouds were low, bats were fluttering in the sky and the steam rising in the cool evening air gave it a dream-like atmosphere.
Relaxing! Invigorating! A perfect scene.
Then a young, naked couple approached our 'silent pool,' which was given the name, we figured, because you're supposed to be silent while sitting in it.
The young couple was good at being silent. They silently slipped into the pool. She had long, wavy red hair that clung wet to her shoulders. He lay back and submerged his body into the hot water. She leaned over the stony edge and, clean and curvy, gazed out at the river. The steam continued to rise as the night fell. Joe and I sat there, in our swimsuits, feeling awkward and dorky.
I watched the red haired woman with the smooth, youthful curves, and wished I had my camera. She was a beautiful picture, and all I could do was imprint it in my mind.
I decided to cool off in the nearby shower. But, feeling so 'clothed' and 'unnatural,' I stumbled on the mossy rocks and laughed like an idiot. I broke the silence. We walked away with our towels hiding our suits, amazed at this strange feeling. Who ever knew that wearing clothes could be so uncomfortable?
We walked by the steam sauna. The ancient, weathered building looked inviting and the sound of flowing water inside made me want to go in. In the darkness I opened the door, not knowing what or who was inside. Steam bellowed out the door and inside the cavernous building I saw only moist air and heard the echoing sound of the hot water. I decided to investigate later.
Back at our cabin we broke out the Swedish fish, sparkling apple cider and playing cards-Joe showed no mercy in a game called 3-13, then I stomped on him in canasta. This being a short trip, I wanted to get the most out of our stay. I planned to get up early, visit the hot springs again, walk around a bit, then enjoy a relaxing breakfast.
But when we got up, it was already 8:30 a.m. Breakfast was only served until 9 a.m. We rushed to enjoy the 'sumptuous organic vegetarian cuisine,' and happened to sit at a table right next to the young, beautiful couple from the night before. I recognized them with their clothes on, but would they recognize us? I hoped not.
My Breitenbush experience had barely begun, but now it was almost over. We had to head home no later than 11 a.m. to be home for our 7-year-old son after school. But there were still ancient forest trails to explore, yoga classes to take, and other hot springs to visit. What about the steam sauna and the sweat lodge? What about getting in touch with nature and myself?
Just one more visit to the hot spring, I persuaded Joe. So, with suits on, we once again headed out.
This time, the first hot spring had at least four naked people. We didn't even hesitate; we moved on. The second had a couple with a naked baby. No, keep going. The silent pool had two chatty women lounging in it. We opted for this choice, even though they were naked. After all, we were the strange ones here, with our nerdy suits on.
After about 15 minutes of soaking and small chit chat, we relaxed with each other and one woman asked us a bold question. 'I've been coming here for years,' she said, 'and I can honestly say that there have been maybe one or two visitors here with suits on. But this trip, there have been a number of people. Why?'
Maybe it's because people who wouldn't normally come here, people like us, are going beyond their comfort zone and trying it out, Joe said. Maybe this place is finding a wider audience.
Yes, I thought, and maybe some people like me are with their husband who would freak if she got naked in public and would be so uncomfortable that she chooses to go against the flow, even though she'd really like to go with the flow.
At Breitenbush Hot Springs and Retreat Center, soaking naked is the natural way. But it's about more than taking your clothes off. It's about getting in touch with your spirit and letting go of what binds you. It's showing every side of your self, and being accepted for it.