This year’s 96th annual Great American Championship Motorcycle Hill Climb was bittersweet for Marion and Kenny Kittleson.
Last year, the Fairview couple lost their son, Tayler Kittleson, 21, in a car accident a few miles from Tioga, N.D.
The crash happened as Tayler was driving south on Highway 40 on Oct. 28, 2013.
According to the Williston Herald, a truck traveling in the opposite direction crossed the center line and struck Tayler’s vehicle. The driver of the other vehicle was pronounced dead at the scene.
Marion said her son was airlifted to Trinity Health Center in Minot. Then the call came.
“It’s the worst phone call a parent receives,” Marion said Saturday, holding back tears.
They rushed to the hospital. When they got there, he looked “just as he always looked” — something that made the hard truth of the situation harder to swallow, Marion said.
Doctors explained to the couple that Tayler had gone too long without oxygen. His brain had started to swell.
“They explained he’d never wake up; he’d never be Tayler,” his father, Kenny said.
Tayler died Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, at Trinity Health Center in Minot, N.D.
This year, Kenny and Marion, together with about 30 friends and three generations of family members, came to Billings in memory of their son, who loved to climb big hills on his motorcycle.
They donned teal-colored bandannas, sunglasses and black T-shirts. The words “TEAM TATER” in teal block letters ran across the front of their shirts.
In a way, it was Tayler’s signature look. He loved the color teal, he always wore a bandanna and “Tater” was one of his many nicknames and the name of the team for which he rode.
Marion said they had been coming to the event for 15 years, but this year was “bittersweet.”
“We wish we were here in honor of Tayler instead of memory of him ... we miss him a lot,” she said, choking up.
But she said that the memories of him racing were “some of our best memories” and that she was thankful to have them.
After Tayler died, Marion said the town of Fairview was supportive and lots of people donated to his memorial.
Marion said their family donated the money raised to the things he loved most: welding, drums and hill climbing.
A portion of the money went to the Fairview High School welding program, a portion to the music department and a portion to the Billings Motorcycle Club.
The money donated to the BMC funded the shirts for the riders this year.
The shirts are black with white lettering, and on the back, below the words “Motorcycle hill climbing capital of the world,” the shirts read, “In memory of Tayler Kittleson.”
Darrell Devitt, a longtime member and treasurer of the BMC, said they wouldn’t have been able to give the riders T-shirts if it hadn’t been for the donation.
Devitt said he didn’t know Tayler too well, as he had just joined the series.
“I wish I had a chance to get to know him a little better,” he said.
Racing is something that is in the Kittleson family’s blood.
Tayler’s brother Dustin used to ride hill climbs. And over the weekend, Tayler’s cousin, Tiffany Kittleson, competed in the Billings hill climb for the first time.
Tiffany said she did it for Tayler.
“It was an honor,” said Tiffany, who grew up on the same farm as him, just northwest of Fairview.
She said she was “scared but excited” and plans to do it again.
Marion said her son lived “a lot of life.”
Surrounded by friends and family, she said this weekend she felt a connection to him. “It’s like he’s still here with us,” she said.
When tragedy like this happens, Marion said, “Your world kind of stops.”
But Marion stressed the importance of moving forward, saying, “We just got to do things that Tayler would be proud of.”
This weekend, they succeeded in that goal.
“I’m sure he’d be looking down, smiling,” she said.