MISSOULA — A childhood steeped in community service, libertarian ideals and hard work has culminated most recently for Nita Maddux in her determination to organize a nude bike ride in Missoula.
Growing up, Maddux, now 47, would run home from school in Whitefish to catch her grandfather before he left to do horse chores. Her father worked on the railroad. Hard work is not a foreign concept to her.
But aside from their day jobs, her family members were involved in the Whitefish community in various roles, including the City Council.
“It’s kind of what they do,” said Maddux, who has lived mainly in Missoula for more than two decades but who has traveled the world.
During her time in Missoula, the former political activist owned Crystal Video and started a modern circus group, Bellatrix.
While she has turned her social justice lens on Missoula most recently, she spent the past three years working on various causes in Hawaii, Cambodia and the Philippines.
After a near-death bout with malaria several months ago, Maddux said, she was ready to come home and be closer to her two grown children.
Missoula, though, is not what she remembers.
In the Philippines, a country that was reeling from the devastation of typhoon Haiyan, necessities were hard to come by, she said.
In Missoula, they aren’t, but people are still “tucked in” and often worried about the day to day, she said.
A naked bike ride would be just the thing to bring people out, she thought.
When planning the ride, Maddux has followed all the permitting requirements to be “polite” and has well-publicized it so if people don’t want to be part of the event, they can avoid it entirely.
But the ride, scheduled for Aug. 17, has met heavy opposition, and Maddux said she has received two death threats. On the other end of the spectrum, though, she said, she has found support.
The ride isn’t about nudity, per se, Maddux said, adding she isn’t a nudist but is comfortable with her body and has ridden in a similar annual ride held in Portland, Oregon, several times.
People really are afraid of being naked, she said. “But with that, that’s the exact point.”
The ride is about courage, people being themselves and stripping away conceptions based on appearances, Maddux said.
“It’s not about sex. It’s about authenticity,” she said.
When she’s not working on the bike ride plans, Maddux spends her days working in catering and teaching yoga, which she adamantly says helps people find inner calm and healing.
She had dabbled in yoga for years, but when she found herself injured and in a challenging relationship three-and-a-half years ago, she became more serious about her practice.
Now that she’s back in Montana, Maddux has been working to bring yoga to prisoners in Deer Lodge, but like with the bike ride, has met opposition.
Both causes highlight the need to create dialogue and shift the cultural narrative, she said.
Plenty of room exists in our democracy to change but the cultural narrative says we can’t. If people at least have conversations, the world is better, period, she added.
Is the human body being commoditized? Should people choose alternative modes of transportation instead of vehicles?
The bike ride is just one way to start the conversation, Maddux said. “It opens the discussion and it creates a container for a moment when that could happen.”