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‘I want to be put back into the air’: The life and death of a BASE jumper

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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.”

‘Treehouse’ Mike Racicot is shown in this undated handout photo. (Adam Myers/Canadian Press)

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, B.C., 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 will take place in Mexico on New Year’s Eve, and some of his ashes will be taken back to the Swiss mountain where he died.

‘Treehouse Mike’

Racicot earned his “Treehouse” nickname for living off-and-on for years in a secret tree house he built on Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, B.C.

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 9, because he felt more comfortable gliding then 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.”

Adventurous spirit

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.” 

Racicot poses in his wingsuit in this undated handout photo. (Rachel Polite/Canadian Press)

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.”

Heads west

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 Seussian house with a green tarp for camouflage. He then built an addition for visitors — a platform with a tent — and 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.

At 23, Racicot packed up everything he owned, including his skateboard, stuffed it onto a small Yamaha scooter and headed west. (Adam Myers/Canadian Press)

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. 

The tree house — as teens, Myers and Racicot had dreamed about building a treefort hotel that looked like the Ewok Village in the Star Wars movie “Return of the Jedi” — became synonymous with Racicot.

500 jumps at the Chief

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, a mountain 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.”

Racicot jumped 969 times in his life, his sister said, with more than 500 jumps at the Chief, as it is known colloquially. 

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.

‘You’re literally flying’

The sport is intoxicating, his friends say. 

“You’re literally flying,” said Moessinger. “The feeling you get out of it, the joy, the high, is unbelievable. Treehouse felt that too.”

Racicot was among the rarefied air of jumpers who were sponsored.

“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 just jumped off the mountain that morning and were back up to fly another line in their wingsuits — Racicot’s suit bearing a giant image of his dog, Taco, on the front. They planned to soon meet three other friends from Canada for a jumping tour around Europe.

Racicot’s final flight

Moessinger jumped first with Racicot in tow. They flew between three-to-10 metres off the steep ground. At one point, 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.

‘Treehouse’ Mike Racicot shown in this undated handout photo hitchhiked across the country several times and rode freight trains for fun. (Adam Myers/Canadian Press)

His death has left a void in the jumping community around the world and with his family in Ottawa. His father, a devout Baptist, struggles with his son’s loss. Prayer usually helps, but it didn’t that first night without his boy.

“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.”

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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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