It’s the 2014 UCI downhill in Fort Williams, Scotland, and a few hours earlier Troy Brosnan won his first World Cup race. Everyone is celebrating. I, however, am in the midst of a photographer’s nightmare.
The Santa Cruz team pits are loud, and so photographer Sven Martin has to shout when he asks to grab a memory card. Earlier that morning I had shot a photo of Josh “Ratboy” Bryceland sending the event’s signature stepdown while pointing at the camera, and Josh wants to see the image. It’s one of some 1,700 photos on the small plastic chip, an entire day’s worth of DH World Cup and essentially my paycheck.
For any action photographer who shoots high-paced events, the memory-card swap becomes automatic and, out of necessity, flawless: card goes into CF wallet, wallet goes into backpack, zippers get shut. So when Troy came through the finish line after his historic race and my camera flashed “FULL,” instinct kicked in. Wallet, backpack, zipper, and I’m onto the next.
My wallet, however, is empty, and Sven and Ratboy wait patiently while I shuffle through my bag to find the morning’s card with the step-down image. Soon I’m frantically digging. Then life starts to whirl as I realize the card is gone, most likely somewhere between the Santa Cruz pits and the Fort William finish corral—a quarter mile distance that has been walked by literally thousands all day. It’s about this point the nausea kicks in, and Sven and I tear apart the camera bag. Nothing.
Next stop is the finish corral, which the maintenance team is in the process of deconstructing. We scour every inch of dirt within a few hundred feet…and come out empty-handed. At this point; Sven, Duncan Phillpot, Ale Di Lulo and other photographers have already offered to help out with any images to needed to fulfill my contracts, which I cannot thank them enough for doing.
Over the years, I’ve had bikes and trucks stolen and lost plenty of other items along the way, but this is a certain situation that no material amount can replace. These are capture moments, impossible to buy or duplicate; Troy will never win his “first” World Cup (although he will most likely win more).
Feeling gutted and helpless, at the hotel I looked over what I had from the day: a few podium shots and a couple secondary images stored on my backup body. So much money and time gone in a matter of seconds. For a photographer, this could be called “rock bottom.”
About two hours later I get an email from Sven. Kathy Sessler, Santa Cruz’s general manager, had found a mystery memory card in the pits during cleaning up. My heart instantly contracted. I’ve heard stories of people losing memory card in rivers or along race courses, only to be found years later with photos intact. I dared to allow a glimmer of hope break my black mood.
A little while later, I meet Sven and Joe Boweman with a case of beer for the trouble. It’s my chip. I grip it tightly as I return to my hotel, this little piece of plastic with bits of my career embedded as “1”s and “0”s.
I had scoured the entire area that afternoon, and as I thought about it I realized the card had most likely fallen out of my pack in the initial rummaging to hand it to Sven, finding its way under some rock or gravel inches from my feet—so close, yet probably the only place I left unsearched. Moral of the story? Look for things where you least expect them, whether that’s life in general or a small piece of plastic buried in the dirt. And never—never—underestimate the power of a case of beer.