Jumper wanted to be ‘put back into the air’

37-year-old Whistler BASE jumper asked for ad­ven­ture to go on

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - LIAM CASEY

Mike Raci­cot kept a let­ter with one re­quest should he die: “I want to be put back into the air.”

The five-page hand­writ­ten mis­sive the elite BASE jumper had left at his home in Bri­tish Columbia had in­struc­tions on what to do with his pos­ses­sions and his beloved dog, a 10-year-old boxer called Taco.

The 37-year-old — known as Treehouse Mike — died on July 26 while on a wing­suit flight in Switzer­land.

“We were al­ways wor­ried about him, but he was so good about tak­ing care of him­self,” said Raci­cot’s sis­ter, Rachel Po­lite, who has spent the past few months ful­fill­ing her brother’s wishes.

“Now we’re tak­ing care of him.” As per his fi­nal wishes, Raci­cot’s body was cre­mated and the ashes were sent to fam­ily and friends who were to take them on more ad­ven­tures.

A big “ash jump” was held in Squamish in late Au­gust when more than two dozen friends jumped off a cliff. When one opened his para­chute, Raci­cot’s ashes burst forth in a gi­ant plume.

His ashes have also been spread on jumps off the Kuala Lumpur Tower in Malaysia, the mas­sive Bal­inghe River Bridge in China and Trump Tower in Van­cou­ver, among oth­ers. An­other jump took place in Mex­ico on New Year’s Eve, and some of his ashes will be taken back to the Swiss moun­tain where he died.

Raci­cot earned his Treehouse nick­name for liv­ing off and on for years in a se­cret tree house he built on Black­comb Moun­tain in Whistler. He be­came a jour­ney­man car­pen­ter, a bee­keeper — you had to do­nate money to a lo­cal char­ity to get some honey — and worked for a time at Tim Hor­tons. He hitch­hiked across the coun­try sev­eral times and rode freight trains for fun.

He spent his early years in Que­bec be­fore mov­ing to Arn­prior, Ont., in the Ot­tawa Val­ley, when he was four years old.

That’s where he started to skate­board, at age nine, be­cause he felt more com­fort­able glid­ing than walk­ing, said his 40-year-old sis­ter. Peo­ple made fun of his walk due to prob­lems with the arches in his feet.

“He had a lit­tle bounce in his step when he walked,” said Po­lite, so he skated all over the small town. “He be­came re­ally good, re­ally quick.”

The fam­ily soon moved to Bar­rhaven, an Ot­tawa sub­urb, where, as a teen, Raci­cot ad­vo­cated for a skate park that would later be­come a favourite haunt for the young­ster and his friends.

His fa­ther tried putting Raci­cot in foot­ball, but that didn’t take.

“I say to Mike, ‘To be good at this, you have to hit the other guys,”’ Al Raci­cot says. “He didn’t have that in him.”

His ad­ven­tur­ous spirit couldn’t be con­tained, his fam­ily said. He jumped out of trees and soon be­gan jump­ing off bridges, some 35 me­tres high, into the wa­ter be­low.

“The first time I re­ally met him he was do­ing flips off the roof of the com­mu­nity cen­tre into the snow,” said Adam My­ers, his child­hood friend.

To­gether, Raci­cot and My­ers started a graf­fiti col­lec­tive — called DBS crew — that left their marks across the city.

“If you’re in Ot­tawa, Mike is a leg­end,” My­ers said. “All they knew is this guy started DBS, moved out west, lived in a tree fort and be­came a BASE jumper.”

On his 18th birth­day, Raci­cot asked his fa­ther for a sky­div­ing ses­sion. Al Raci­cot com­plied. The fa­ther, son and My­ers drove to Arn­prior where Raci­cot went up in a plane and jumped.

“He was so stoked, you could see it in his eyes,” said My­ers.

At 20, Raci­cot dropped out of col­lege.

“He wasn’t the great­est one in school,” his fa­ther said, “but, boy, could he work.”

Most of all, Raci­cot wanted ad­ven­ture. So at 23, he packed up ev­ery­thing he owned, in­clud­ing his skate­board, stuffed it onto a small Yamaha scooter and headed west. The scooter maxed out at 60 km/ h through the flats of the Prairies and chugged up­hill at 40 km/ h through the Rock­ies, his life’s be­long­ings weigh­ing him down. It took him a month to get to Bri­tish Columbia. Driv­ers gave him the fin­ger the en­tire ride, his sis­ter said.

But rent in Whistler, even when he lived in some­one’s closet, was too much. With his bur­geon­ing car­pen­try skills, Raci­cot built a tree house on the side of a cliff, at­tached to trees.

“He stole all the ma­te­ri­als, the wood, the nails, ev­ery­thing ” from con­struc­tion sites in Whistler, said My­ers.

In­side, there was room for a dou­ble bed and com­part­ments for clothes. Out­side, he had a small grill. He cov­ered the house with a green tarp for cam­ou­flage.

When My­ers vis­ited the home, he asked about the slash marks through the tarp.

“Some­times bears walk on the roof,” Raci­cot told him. My­ers slept lit­tle that week when he stayed with his friend.

Raci­cot had friends work­ing in the vil­lage’s nu­mer­ous ho­tels where he’d go for a shower as the maids cleaned a room, then grabbed grub from the free con­ti­nen­tal break­fast, and ex­er­cised in the gym.

About 10 years ago, Raci­cot got into BASE jump­ing, which in­volves jump­ing with a para­chute off build­ings, cliffs, or bridges. He moved to Squamish, con­sid­ered by many to be among the most im­por­tant ar­eas for BASE jump­ing in Canada, where he’d of­ten start his day with a jump off the Stawa­mus Chief, 700 me­tres above Howe Sound, where BASE jump­ing is le­gal.

“He was the chief of the Chief,” said Philip Moessinger, a jumper who also learned un­der the tute­lage of Raci­cot.

“Ev­ery­one knows Treehouse in B.C.”

His peers say Raci­cot was one of the best all-around BASE jumpers in the world. He could also per­form aeri­als and flew in­cred­i­ble dis­tances with a wing­suit.

Raci­cot was among the rar­efied air of spon­sored jumpers.

“He did it all, and did it all well and that made him im­pres­sive and unique among his peers,” says Joe Putrino, who works for Apex BASE, a para­chute com­pany that spon­sored Raci­cot.

On July 26, Moessinger and Raci­cot stood at the top of Chaser­rugg moun­tain with the Swiss town of Walen­stadt sit­ting be­low.

The sun shone down that af­ter­noon as wispy clouds rolled by.

The pair had jumped off the moun­tain that morn­ing and were back up to fly an­other line in their wing­suits.

Moessinger jumped first with Raci­cot in tow. They flew be­tween three and 10 me­tres off the steep ground. Raci­cot flew un­der­neath his friend and took the lead.

“It was a great flight,” Moessinger said.

They came out of the flight line, the exit named Fa­tal At­trac­tion, where the ter­rain drops off, and the point at which they would fly to­ward the land­ing area where they would pull their parachutes. Raci­cot didn’t pull his para­chute. “He just dis­ap­peared in the trees,” Moessinger said as he fell silent.

No one knows what hap­pened to Raci­cot in that flight. His death has left a void in the jump­ing com­mu­nity and with his fam­ily. His fa­ther, a de­vout Bap­tist, strug­gles with his son’s loss. Prayer usu­ally helps, but it didn’t that first night.

“The most dif­fi­cult time I had was the night I heard Mike had died,” his fa­ther said through tears.

“I be­lieve that we pray for peo­ple while they’re alive and we make our de­ci­sions while we live. That night, as I was go­ing through the names of our fam­ily mem­bers and friends and got to Mike, I re­al­ized I didn’t have to pray for him any­more.”

He was the chief of the Chief. Ev­ery­one knows Treehouse in B.C. PHILIP MOESSINGER, a BASE jumper who was with Mike Raci­cot on his fa­tal flight

ADAM MY­ERS/FILES

Mike Raci­cot, known to many as Treehouse Mike, died on July 26 while on a wing­suit flight in Switzer­land. He asked that his body be cre­mated so, in a way, he could fly again. He did not want to be put in the ground or in a box on a shelf. He was 37 years old.

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