Being prepared

A few months ago I covered the cutting down of the National Capitol Christmas Tree near Dardenelle in the Stanislaus National Forest. It was about a 2-½ hour drive from Stockton so I had to leave around 4:30 a.m. for the early morning start time of 7 am. I’d like to say that the it was a pretty drive up Highway 108, but because it was during the wee hours of the early morning, I couldn’t see anything beyond the reach of my headlights.

When we arrived (I picked up Record Web Online Producer Katie Combs along the way in Sonora), the sky was just beginning to lighten from its star-studded darkness.

In the information for the event emailed to us by the U. S. Forest Service the day before, we were warned that it would be cold, though it didn’t say exactly how cold. I decided to prepare for the worst. I wore a long-sleeved T-shirt, beneath a button-down shirt. On top of that was a hooded sweat-shirt and then a down vest topped with a waterproof shell. I wore jeans and then heavy cotton socks over moisture-wicking sock liners in my hiking boots. I also had a wool hat and wool-fingerless gloves.

I was more than warm enough in the car, but I wondered how would I do in out in the cold. The media was staged about one-fourth mile away from the actual tree-cutting site. We had to walk the rest of the way. The air was definitely brisk. Small puffs of warm, steamy breaths billowed from our mouths like smoke from like a gaggle of Marlboro men. We got several estimates of the outside temperature, ranging from a low of 12 degrees to a balmy 17 degrees.

The paved road to the site was freshly plowed but was still dotted with snow and black ice, making the short walk a bit treacherous. The Forest Service set up a viewing area on the hillside across the road from the tree. It wasn’t too much of a climb but combined with trudging through the fresh snow and the approximately 7,000-foot elevation I was a bit winded.

I walked up and down the hillside looking for the best angle and actually worked up a sweat. I had to open up my jacket to let in some of the cold air to cool myself down. Once I found my spot I stopped moving and the cold crept over me once more and I bundled up again.

I was surprised how comfortable I was. It was a fairly clear morning with just a few clouds in the sky, and I mentioned to a Forest Service employee how nice the weather was. “Except for the cold,” he said. I figured that it must be really cold if the people who live and work in the area are shivering, but to me it didn’t seem that bad.

It hit me then that my layered approach was working pretty well. While perhaps I wasn’t toasty warm, neither was I a popscicle. I was able to concentrate on getting the shot without the distraction of the extreme cold.

I was a Boy Scout as a kid so I’m familiar with the scout’s motto of “Be Prepared.” Although I didn’t make it past second class, it was one lesson that I always try to remember.

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