by TIM BROSS & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & everal weeks ago, I sat on my bathroom toilet thumbing through the newspaper. I stumbled across an advertisement for the Bare Buns Fun Run (BBFR), a 3.1-mile run held at the Kaniksu Ranch Family Nudist Park, about 40 miles north of Spokane. Count me in!

A clich & eacute; advises public speakers to imagine their audience naked. Cures anxiety, calms the nerves, they say. When I decided to compete in the 23rd-annual Bare Buns Fun Run and began training to win the age 18-24 division, I joined the proverbial audience. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. And I wanted to do both. I wanted to join the nudists, and then beat them at their own race.

I immediately contacted Kevin Barnes, the perfect sidekick for this event -- a seemingly innocent four-eyed dork with a penchant for mischievous adventure. We were later joined by Wes Norstadt -- a statuesque Adonis -- and Matt Miller, a gregarious guy whose body made us all feel better about our own.

The day of the race arrived with much fanfare: We were to be media darlings for this publication. Even my own mother seemed interested in our escapades.

I had spent weeks with Barnes speculating about the nature of the nudist colony. "Dude, I bet there are perverts everywhere," I proclaimed earlier in the week. Oddly enough, this startling admission never discouraged me from participating.

"I'm just not going to sit down. Ever," the hygienically-conscious Norstadt promised.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & picked up the trio at about 7 am on the day of the run, and we jetted out to Kaniksu. After an hour of driving, we were greeted by a sign pointing us in the direction of the race.

As the bright colors of the sign shimmered against mid-morning sun, a dark cloud of realization immediately descended upon the car: We had reached the point of no return. We were going to run naked. Whether we liked it or not.

We arrived at this Eden, a utopia apparently before the Fall of Man. Everyone was happy -- and naked. And then there were my three hoodlum friends and I. All we could think about was sinning.

I parked the car, and Norstadt (our Adonis) promptly tore off his clothing. The rest of us soon followed suit, leaving us only with the bare necessities. Socks and shoes.

We eagerly walked to the camp area, our jitters resulting in rampant conversation.

"Hey Wes, you know how to find a blind man in a nudist colony?" I asked seemingly innocuously.

"How's that?" he replied.

"It ain't hard," I deadpanned.

We were greeted by several middle-aged men and women, all of whom were a sore sight for easy eyes. In this situation, it wasn't hard. But they were relentlessly friendly, and met us with warm smiles and hand shakes. Nudity did not seem to faze these people.

It was surreal. I was convinced a drunken clown on stilts would soon wander by, a crooked grin on his face. I was also sure the social contract did not exist here, and that Kaniksu did not observe such institutions as Daylight Savings Time. We were in Alice's Wonderland.

But no matter how hard I tried to feel uncomfortable here, the BBFR's clientele made me feel accepted and unashamed. As I stretched for the race, genitals exposed, I finally began to fit in.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he four of us wandered to the starting line at roughly 9:30 am, joining the other 300-some-odd runners. After a quick examination of the crowd, I quickly realized we were possibly the sole representatives of our age group, the 18-to-24-year-old males.

"Kevin, I think we can win this thing," I predicted.

The race started, and Kevin and I took off, balls-out. The course is an out-and-back, meaning we would run roughly a mile-and-a-half on a subtle decline, and then battle the incline on the return.

I eventually found a comfortable pace in fifth place. Kevin was ahead of me in third, and a pack of seven of us had distanced ourselves from the crowd. I wanted to win the race badly, and I attempted to establish a breathing regimen. I even tried a bevy of tricks I learned when I ran in high school.

After a few minutes of taking myself way too seriously, a curious smile crossed my face. I could see the guy's butt in front of me. If I turned around, I could see fresh Johnson. There was something refreshingly organic about it.

At the midway point, I was passed by two men. I was in seventh place, hundreds of yards ahead of eighth place. Kevin was in sight in fourth -- as was first place -- but I wouldn't catch either of them.

There I was, with my reproductive organ dangling. This was fun. I decided to drink in the rest of the race, maintaining a brisk pace but also making sure to enjoy the scenery. Heck, I was running by hundreds of naked, athletic men and women. Good thing I'm bad at multi-tasking.

I rolled to the finish line in seventh place, with a time of 19:27. Normally, it is etiquette to hug fellow competitors -- or exchange other pleasantries -- at the conclusion of a race. Instead, I shuffled my feet for several minutes, summoning the embarrassing memories of my prepubescent experiences at middle-school dances. I finally confronted the winner, and the world's most awkward hand-pound ensued.

Our Adonis, Norstadt, crossed the finish line nearly two minutes later and we sipped Gatorade and chuckled at each other until Miller showed up.

"I didn't walk at all guys," Miller said proudly. "But a guy offered me a beer, and I drank it."

Such was the culture of the race. We were very obviously tourists at the event, sheepishly bumbling from place to place. But everyone made an effort to accept us. The run was not meant to be competitive. It was fun, and natural.

If you can't beat the nudists, join 'em.

Tim Bross is one of The Inlander's summer interns. We swear we didn't force him to do this.??