Three years ago this October 5th, I quit drinking. It was either I quit the booze or watch my life rapidly spiral into oblivion. I chose the former. I wanted to live a happy and healthy life. But this story isn’t about why I quit drinking. This story is about Cyclocross and what I did in those first few months after I quit.
Four years prior to quitting the hooch, I quit smoking. In order to do so, I took up cycling. Inspired by watching the charity cycling event, 24 Hours of Booty, I bought my first road bike. A Felt Z6 from the now defunct TrySports. I’ve been riding ever since. Well, let’s just say that I do ride a bike. Not all the time and certainly not at the level of some – but I ride and that’s what matters most to me.
Fast forward to October of 2015. As a working photographer, I paired my love of cycling with my passion for photography. It was an easy marriage. Photography had always been a release for me. Whenever I was stressed or just needed to clear my head, the camera helped. Thankfully, it was there for me (along with AA) in the following months after I quit drinking. Otherwise, I don’t know how this story would’ve turned out.
That brings me to Cyclocross. For those who are silently asking themselves, “What the hell is a Cyclocross?” let me put it to you this way. Cyclocross is like a steeplechase on Speed. But instead of riding a horse you are riding a modified bicycle to handle the conditions. Throw in some sand, perhaps some mud, a few man-made barriers (think tiny hurdles) and you’ve got yourself a course. Now ride it as hard and as smartly as you can. At some point, you will have to dismount a few times and carry your bike as you run. Drop the bike back down, hop back on it and ride like hell for 30-minutes to an hour. Sounds painful doesn’t it? It is.
For the next three months, almost every weekend, I criss-crossed the state of North Carolina following the Cyclocross community’s band of traveling gypsies. Each event was different but the core group of dedicated racers stayed the same. If they had young families, they brought them to the race. In many ways it was like following the Grateful Dead but without the brown acid, tie-dye, and grilled cheese sandwiches. This community is a tight bunch of folks. I think the shared experiences of suffering together helps strengthen those bonds. At least that’s what came through in the images I captured from their races.
Here’s how Cyclocross helped me when I was at my lowest point. It gave me purpose and it gave me a schedule to follow. It filled my old drinking days with something that was positive and familiar. Every Friday night, I would clean and pack-up my photography gear for shooting the racers. I’d check the weather in whatever town the traveling roadshow was going to and I’d pack accordingly. I imagine much like the racers themselves would do with their bikes and gear.
Once at the race, I would capture hundreds of images. From the racers to the fans to families. Everything was important to me. It all mattered because it mattered to them. Perhaps someone’s Mom came to watch them race. I wanted to get that shot of the mom watching her daughter race. or the mom and son walking alone after a hard fought race. You see, in reality, I was taking my addictive nature and laying it smack dab at the feet of Cyclocross. As if to say, “Here, I’m laying my burdens down. Help me get well.” And it did.
Cyclocross redirected my mind and drive. Whether it was laying in the mud to get the shot or driving solo for hours listening to whatever funky station I could find on Sirius-XM radio. Cyclocross helped me. But it wasn’t always at the races. Most of the time it was behind a 27″ screen editing that weekend’s images. That’s where I found myself. The self that had long ago faded away into the depths of depression and alcoholism.
For non-photographers, we photogs spend way more time in front of the computer screen than we actually do creating images. There’s some irony in that I suppose.
So let me say these two words to everyone who raced or attended the North Carolina Cyclo-Cross races in 2015.
You will never know how much you helped to mend a broken man.
Michael C. Hernandez
Image captured and provided by Darn Wilz