project 365

35. Hours.

While I was interning for the Reno Gazette-Journal in 2008, I blogged about the time I worked a 12-hour day*.

Cut to 5.5 years later, and I know I’ve worked more 12-hour days than I’d like to remember. And today was one of those days.

It went something like this: office. Laptop. Press conference. Endangered species. Hearing. Fisheries. Story. AT&T store. Lunch. Press gallery. Hearing. Water. Public lands. Water. Gallery. Writing. Thinking. Writing. Story. Confusion. Researching. Writing. Story.

Next thing I know, I’m alone in a room of the gallery and it’s been 12 hours since my day began. I didn’t leave the Capitol campus or go outside once (the first time this has happened since I arrived in D.C. Tunnels are weird, you guys).

But that’s journalism, y’know? There will be so many, many more to come.

*I’d link to the original post, which was up on the website of the student newspaper I worked for. Sadly, that website has gone through a bit of a quarter-life crisis as of late, so I just tracked down the post on the Wayback Machine and pasted it below, mostly so I don’t have to look for it again. Please excuse the various errors 19-year-old Jessica made.

12 Hour-Days.
By Jessica Estepa

Tuesday, July 15, 2008 – 11:37 p.m.

They’re bound to happen in this field and for me, that day was last Sunday.

It all began Friday afternoon, when a senior editor asked me to come into his office and told me I was doing a good job. That conversation ended with me agreeing to watch the government gather wild horses out in the middle of the desert on a Sunday. I’d be going out with Clay, the photo intern, come back to do a daily story, and then spend some time the next week working on a bigger enterprise story with Frank Mullen, a senior reporter here at the RGJ.

I hung out with Frank to get the background on the story while he smoked a cigarette, and then I tracked down Clay to tell him to meet me at the office at 5:30 a.m. so we can drive out to a place about 100 miles outside of Reno. I’m also told that The New York Times, the USA Today and NPR are going to be there, because it’s turned into a national story.

Cut to Sunday. I ignored my alarm clock, and finally opened my eyes around 5:20 a.m. I freaked out for about a minute, then hopped out of bed, quickly got dressed and proceeded to break a billion traffic laws to get to the office.

I found Clay calmly sitting at his computer, waiting for me. We nominated his car for the drive out because it gets better gas mileage, and then drove away into the sunrise, eating blueberry Poptarts for breakfast.

The drive seemed endless. We stopped for Wadsworth for five minutes, where I bought coffee, and then continued on through Nixon and past Pyramid Lake (though we didn’t notice it the first time), a Snoopy Rock and several small animals (I thought they were emus, but he thinks they were rabbits).

Two hours and lots of empty road later, we finally find where we’re supposed to meet everyone. Everyone meaning several of the Bureau of Land Management’s communications department, reporters from The New York Times and NPR, a photographer from the Nevada Appeal/Associated Press and a few people from the local TV stations. The USA Today didn’t show up after all.

To get to the site where they would catch the horses, we had to go offroading in our cars (cars that were made for city roads). Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve driven through the desert in a Ford Taurus.

Eventually, we made it to the corral, which really was in the middle of nowhere. You were surrounded by dirt, mountains and brush, and besides the noise we were making, you couldn’t hear anything.

As part of a precaution, the journalists were herded into a horse trailer. That lasted all of five minutes when we all decided that sitting in a horse trailer wouldn’t give anyone a decent shot, and wandered outside.

It was a long wait. I had time to wander around, check out the cowboys, learn about Judas horses and talk about porn stars with The NY Times reporter and AP/Nevada Appeal photog (no joke) before there was even a hint that the horses were coming. But once we got the mile warning, we all went into our designated spots to watch them run in.

They looked like tiny dots coming towards us at first, followed by a big orb. The closer they got, the better you could make out shapes – four adult horses and one colt, sprinting forward as a helicopter followed close by. The Judas horse – a horse trained by humans to lead the wild horses into the corral – was let out, and he joined the tiny herd. But as they entered the gate, one broke away, running the other direction as if it knew what would happen. She stood about a mile away later, looking on into the coral and probably wondering why no one had followed her.

They banged against the gates at first, though they didn’t make any other noises besides that. I can’t help but wonder what could have been going on in their minds. Imagine you’d been free to run your entire life, and then you suddenly were stuck in a small space and there wasn’t anything you couldn’t do about it.

Once they’d calmed down a bit, we were allowed to go outside and observe them from a closer distance.
They were beautiful – one dark brown stallion, two bay mares and one dark brown colt. They weren’t groomed like domesticated horses, but there was something so powerful, so natural about them.

And so the morning went, much like that. The cowboys ended up only catching one other small herd, another four horses. They eventually stopped around noon because the sun was begin to beat down on us. It’d reached the point where all I could think was how smart cowboys were for owning their hats.

We traveled back to where our cars were parked, and soon after, were on our way back towards Reno. We (Clay, the AP photographer and myself) invited the NPR people to lunch with us in Fernley, but they ended up heading out for an interview. So onto Fernley we went, where we talked about why we were in journalism, risk-taking, etc.

Another hour later, and I was sitting at my desk in the office, probably smelling absolutely awful and writing away to get the next day’s CP done. As I finished the story, I glanced at the clock and realized I’d been working for 12 hours straight.

It’s true, all I wanted to do at that point was shower and then go to sleep. But as I lied in bed later that night, I realized that I wouldn’t trade it for anything. These sort of experiences make you realize just how small you really are compared to the rest of the world. They expose you to nature, to something you weren’t really aware of before. At least, that’s what it did for me.

So bring on those 12-hour days. Even if you have to live off of coffee and energy drinks and Poptarts, even if you have to get up while the sun’s rising, even if you spend hours and hours driving…they create the kinds of memories that you know you’ll recount to someone a lot younger than you someday, and make you laugh and go, “Man, I can’t believe that I saw that. Wow.”


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