My job as a correspondent puts me in some really wild scenarios. Take for instance boldly taking a swim in a river when it’s 10 degrees Fahrenheit…
Some of my assignments have truly been wild, including having to jump out of a helicopter in the Siberian taiga and swamplands to live in tents for almost three weeks while doing a documentary with Discovery Channel on the Tunguska Meteorite. Others have been dangerous like covering the aftermath right after the Russian-Georgian war over South Ossetia and walking through minefields (not the smartest thing to do) or covering the Egyptian revolution and being kidnapped for a short while by a local vigilante group in Cairo. I’ve flown in a Russian fighter jet, helped a group of international kayakers take a river in Buratiya that has never been successfully plied before (many have died), and have reached the upper elevations of the tallest mountain in Europe, Mt. Elbrus in Russia’s south.
But this is nothing compared to what I did this week by plunging into an icy river with the air temperature at 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 Celsius). The river was bound by snow banks and I have no idea what the water temperature was, but about the same I’m sure. We were shooting a story on the Russian Orthodox tradition of Theophany (part of the Epiphany) where at midnight believers dunk themselves in commemoration of the Baptism of Christ.
Well, it’s all in a day’s work as they say, so I also prepared for the “money shot.” I have seen this tradition in many parts of Russia, including in Yakutia where it’s around minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (the same in Celsius by the way), and always shook my head sputtering “Those crazy Russians!” Now I had to become one of them and it was pretty much unnerving. First of all we were standing in subfreezing temperatures already for about five hours, and then it was time to dress down for business. Because I knew I would have to “perform” in front of a camera, I took a nice long, thick terry-cloth bathrobe with me. I was later accused by my coworkers of having stolen a Marriott Hotel bathrobe (tried to cover the logo up with a big towel but it didn’t always cover it), but then I explained to them that this particular bathrobe was given to Sara Brightman during her stay in Moscow and she forgot it, and somehow it ended up in my possession.
I was asked if it was cold plunging into the icy waters (obviously a very silly question – what do you think, it’s below freezing and I’m naked?), and actually it wasn’t all that bad, but I don’t think I’ll be doing it again. Since I was standing there for so long waiting for the cameraman to get all the shots in, my feet were frozen anyway even before I got to the water. Then there were several huffs and puffs and in I went! Yes, it was terribly cold but I had to keep a straight face and not scream any obscenities (believe me there were plenty in my head) because it was all being filmed and I wasn’t about to make another cut and jump back into the water again.
By tradition, one should dunk oneself three times under water, commemorating the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit); however, I’m not a Russian Orthodox member, or a member of any other church to be honest. I just mixed in with the large number of “polar bears,” those who are also just there to take the plunge without any real religious foundation, but just out of fun.
The real shocker is coming back out of the water when you’re completely wet and you feel the ice practically building up on parts of your body (all the while trying to keep a straight face and look into the camera).
Ok, I will be honest, I did enjoy it. I’ve seen this for almost 20 years here and always said I’d never do that…well, I did. I don’t know what else is in the future, but will continue to fulfill assignments because it is my job after all (and no, I wasn’t told by anyone that I had to take a midnight swim in subfreezing water, it was my own decision).
By the way, I’ve got less than a week to learn how to ice skate for the next news story. I’ve never put ice skates on in my life…obviously I’m taking a crash course.
I think I’ll draw the line when I’m told to put on a parachute…
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