Until last weekend, the only Big Nasty I knew was a girl named Sarah who got a little too friendly with the swim team our freshman year of college. But then I ventured to New Plymouth for a super-hot day of hillbilly sport involving some of the tightest dirt bikes and craziest riders on the planet.
Born 90 years ago, the motorcycle hillclimb enjoyed a few decades of nationwide popularity before taking heat and legislation from environmental groups and neighborhood associations. Concerns centered on erosion and pollution, but current organizers of the event take huge precautions to ensure that impact is minimized without sacrificing an event that thousands of people consider the ultimate test of the man-machine dynamic.
Taking cues from bigger events like Montana's Great American and Utah's Widowmaker, the Big Nasty Hillclimb is Idaho's offering to stunt/daredevil dirt-biking fans and participants alike who crave the adrenaline rush of crashing really heavy machines into a hillside. Maybe it's the joy of watching your investment flip and crush your molded Lycra booties, or the announcer's incessant, terrible innuendos. Or maybe it's the $10,000 purse.
Whatever the motivation, the challenge of riding up a 540-foot hill at a 62-degree angle over a 12-foot vertical summit drew crowds early last Saturday, August 21. Working our way through the cow-pies and gopher holes of a donated field flanking the hill, the boy and I claimed a patch of scorched ground. All around us were makeshift shelters and lawn chairs, and everyone seemed to have a beer in hand by the stroke of 10 (a.m., mind you). There were already contestants on the amateur hill, and we craned our necks to watch the action.
A rider dressed in green ripped up the lower third of the hill, leaning and thrusting his way toward a scary looking ridge. At the halfway mark he started to lose momentum but slipped easily off the back of his bike before a crew of "catchers," well, caught it. Then came rider after rider, each one trying to break the morning's record of 220 feet. Finally, someone did. Attacking the hill with monstrous speed and the signature roar of a 4-stroke, the unknown rider didn't falter from his course until he hit the wall right near the top. The crowd hummed with anticipation, the announcer baited us with endless cliffhangers, and suddenly, the attendants on the hill went nuts. The record fell to this new champion, and high-fives were exchanged to the beat of blaring alternative music pumped from below.
I missed the Pro category later in the day, but the opening activities were enough to demonstrate the draw of big nastiness. For some reason, the sight of people trying to accomplish seemingly impossible feats never gets old. No matter how many times I watched somebody thrash up the hill, I couldn't keep my eyes off the next guy (maybe it was the molded Lycra butt-pads ... ) :