Laura Casey’s body is a roadmap of scars and puncture marks from dozens of surgeries and invasive medical procedures going back more than two decades.
You’d think the last thing she’d want to do is explore the Maine woods naked.
But you’d be wrong.
While it may seem unorthodox, traipsing around the Maine outdoors sans clothes is about more than enjoying fresh air on her exposed skin. It’s her way of maintaining control of and celebrating her body and health, while encouraging others to do the same.
“I have people tell me I should be ashamed to be naked because of all my scars and because I am fat,” the 48-year-old Casey said. “I tell those kind of people, ’If you can’t appreciate what this body does for me, then shame on you.’”
Naked hiking isn’t as taboo as you might imagine. Maine is one of 33 states in which it is legal for women to go out in public topless. As for the rest of a person’s body, it’s a gray area. Under state law, full body exposure is allowed as long as it’s not done to “cause affront or alarm.”
There’s even a World Naked Hiking day, which is celebrated on June 21 to coincide with the summer solstice.
The last thing Laura Casey or her husband, Adam Casey, want to do is cause anyone alarm while they are out hiking naked. They normally hit the trails around 2 a.m. to avoid seeing — or being seen by — anyone, and always carry their clothes in case they need to get dressed in a hurry.
The couple’s introduction to being naked outdoors began when they were in the U.S. Navy and stationed in Italy. There, Laura Casey said, every beach in her area was either a nude or topless beach.
“The first time I went to the beach, I was like, ‘What’s going on?’” she said. “My friends told me not to stare and I wasn’t, but I was fascinated.”
It did not take long for the couple to take part in the local beach customs, though Adam Casey said military life eventually put a stop to it.
“We both became officers,” he said. “You can’t be naked when you are an officer.”
When the couple returned to the U.S., they eventually ended up in western Maine, and in 2015, went on their first hike.
It was a bumpy start.
“It was in April or May and I had discovered the Bald Mountain trail,” Laura Casey said. “We had never hiked a day in our lives [and] I told Adam, ‘I found a trail and I don’t know where it goes, but I found one.’”
Making just about every rookie mistake possible, the two set off wearing jeans and non-hiking shoes and without water.
“We spent the next six months learning everything we could about hiking,” Laura Casey said.
Laura and Adam Casey laugh (left) after Laura put leaves where her nipples would be before hiking recently. Laura Casey hugs Moose (top right), one of her five dogs. Laura Casey’s license plate (bottom right). Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
Better equipped and feeling confident, later that summer they decided to hike up Cranberry Mountain to watch the sunrise.
“It was the first of August, and I was hot and sweaty,” Casey said. “I told Adam I was going to take my shirt off and wanted him to take a picture.”
Two naked hikers were born that day.
“It became our thing after that,” Laura Casey said. “During each hike, we take a naked selfie.”
For Casey, naked hiking became a way to celebrate what makes her different.
When Casey was 22 and stationed at the former Cutler naval base, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a series of procedures that culminated in a double mastectomy with breast reconstruction, Casey opted to have her implants removed in 2019.
“At that point I told them I wanted a flat closure,” Casey said. “No reconstruction, no nipples, nothing.”
Then, in 2016, Casey learned she had severe endometriosis on her uterus and surrounding tissue she needed a full hysterectomy. To this day, she is dealing with endometriosis on her diaphragm, arteries in her leg and possibly on her brain.
As part of the hysterectomy, Casey underwent a procedure to create a closure where the cervix had been. Known as a “cuff,” it prevents the body from expelling internal organs.
Over the years, Casey’s ongoing health struggles have cost her friends and family.
“I think people look at me and see their own mortality and that scares them,” she said. “But we can’t dwell on that.”
Nor can she dwell on her own mortality. Just recently, Casey was informed her cuff is again failing, which would prove fatal.
“The doctor told me there is no guarantee I won’t die,” said Casey, whose doctor has consulted with colleagues around the world and can find no information about why Casey’s cuff failed.
While they wait to see if the medical professionals can come up with something to treat this latest health crisis, the couple faces each day with humor, sometimes dark, and plans to keep hiking naked — often with their pack of five tiny dogs — and inspiring others facing challenges.
“When I have clothes on, people assume I am normal,” she said. “I want them to know I have the ability to have my clothes off and go out.”
For the most part, the few people they encounter while naked hiking are polite, if curious.
“People see this person with no boobs and big scars and will ask questions,” Casey said. “Of course, there will always be that one rude person that has to ask if I am a boy or a girl.”
And when she’s in need of inspiration, Casey turns to one of her favorite musicians.
“It’s like Lizzo says, ‘If I shine, we all shine,’” Casey said.