BILLINGS — Over the weekend, riders from around the country converged in Columbus for the Nitro National Pro Hillclimb. At the top of the massive incline, two 14-year-old friends were the youngest on the hill worker crew, helping to protect the riders and their bikes from damage.
“My older brother always loved dirt bikes, so he got me into it. He came here one year and I came with him and then the rest of us just came with him and we’ve been doing this ever since," said Luke Randall from Manhattan who has been on the hill crew for four years.
Hillclimb riders compete for the fastest time on a dirt bike to the top of the hill. At the same time, team of about 10 hill workers run up and down the steep incline, trying to prevent riders and their bikes from taking a tumble when they don't reach the top.
“I just go up and if they fall, I pick them back up. It’s the same thing over and over," said Brant Albrecht, of Bozeman who has been on the hill crew for five years.
Albrecht said he tried hill climbing a few years ago, but is in between bike sizes so it's tough to get up the hill and he's stopped for the time being. But you can't beat the view from the top of the hill, which is the best seat in the house, Albrecht said.
“It’s super cool to watch, they just come flying over this ledge. It’s really fun. A lot cooler than watching from down here, I’ll tell you that," Albrecht said.
The best seats in the house do, however, come with responsibility. Randall remembered a time last year when he likely prevented major burns to a rider's leg.
"A bike fell on somebody’s knee. And me and my brother lifted it off of him. I don’t think we got it in time because his knee was dislocated still, but it could have gotten a lot worse because it was on the muffler, so it probably would have burned it if we didn’t get it off that fast," Randall said.
The volunteer job can also be hot, sweaty, dusty and windy with the dirt bikes spitting loose dirt and rocks into the air as they climb up the hill. Randall said walking around can be tough.
"It’s super hard. (The dirt) gets super soft after they go up it once or twice. You don’t really have good grip with your feet to grab," Randall said.
All the hard work and effort is worth it though, Randall said.
“Just for the fun of it. You get to see some guy fly at you on a massive bike. What’s not to love about it. Especially if you love doing the same stuff yourself," Randall said.
Being on the hill crew means you get to interact with the pro riders, which was the best part of the job for Albrecht.
“Sometimes they let you take their bike down or take a picture or whatever. It’s pretty fun. Getting broken parts off of their bike and keeping it," Albrecht said.
“It’s super fun talking to them. They’re super friendly. It’s awesome," Albrecht said.