Whenever he accepted the parachute from his officers in the back of the C-47 cargo plane, Dale Mikkelson gazed at it with the kind of look a kid a few inches too short might give a rollercoaster.
He really wanted to use it.
It wasn’t his job to jump from the plane. Using the chute would be a prayer of survival, not a way to go into battle, and so he knew using it would mean rooting for the plane to crash. He didn’t want that.
“I didn’t want to do it over the seas of Japan,” he said. “But it looked so fun.”
More information on Orange Skies Freefall Center can be found at https://skydiveorangeskies.com. There are other skydiving services in northern Colorado, as well.
He thought about parachuting throughout his life, usually on his birthday, and as the years went on, he raised two children with his wife, Flo, in Greeley, where they moved in 1974. He worked in real estate selling farms and took on other odd jobs. He continued to set aside his top bucket list adventure, one he’d had since he rode those planes in the 1950s. Then he turned 70 and 80, and though he remained confident he could do it, he also knew it was possible his chances were slipping away.
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Then this year, when he was 85, he got a birthday present from Flo. He smiled at it, and then he went to see his daughter, Melinda Andrews, who was 43 and lived in Greeley with her husband, Ken.
Dale told them he was finally going to jump out of a plane.
“I’ll go with you,” Melinda answered.
Her husband, Ken, gave her a scathing look, but he would later accept it, as by now he almost expected her to say something like that. Melinda loved going on adventures with her father.
When he was 68, she made a deal with him. She would climb Longs Peak with him if he did the Bolder/Boulder with her. That race on Memorial Day is a hilly 10K and takes a bit more than an hour for most to complete. Longs takes all day over exposed, Class 3 ledges. They even got caught in a lightning storm. Needless to say, Dale got the better deal, even when the two got a standing ovation at the top from the other climbers.
“He did much better than me,” Melinda said about that day on Longs. “My feet were killing me at the end.”
Even time together that wasn’t supposed to be an adventure turned out to be, well, an adventure. Melinda teaches fourth grade at Ann K. Heiman, and Dale enjoys helping in her classroom. One day he brought a chocolate fountain. It didn’t work.
“There was chocolate all over the floor,” Melinda said. “My students loved it.”
So she was happy to go with her father up in a plane and jump out of it. They picked Orange Skies Freefall Center in Fort Collins and drove up together on April 28. Melinda didn’t know what to expect, but that was part of her strategy. She didn’t want too much information. She didn’t want to know anything that would make her back out. She used that same strategy for Longs.
Her oldest child, Kelton, 10, didn’t want to go. He told them he didn’t want to see them “go splat.” Ken, who by this time was on board, told him accidents were rare, but Kelton wasn’t convinced. He stayed home. Her youngest, a daughter, Colbie, 7, had other ideas.
“She was asking me when she could go jump, too,” Melinda said.
On the day of the jump, after they signed all their rights as human beings away, the plane took off and then climbed to 4,000 feet, maybe a bit higher.
They were doing a tandem, a jump required for all first-timers, one where they exit the plane strapped to a trained guide. Once they paid the money and flew up there, they were going to leave the plane — assuming they didn’t have a panic attack — regardless of whether they really wanted to or not.
They didn’t panic. Melinda went first, and she tried to remember what her guide said about landing.
Dale soon followed, and the wind felt really cold on his short-sleeved arms. He flipped off the camera once, to make Melinda laugh, and he gave it a thumbs-up, too, when the skin on his cheeks wasn’t flapping like a sheet on a clothesline.
He was glad when the chute opened, but he also really enjoyed it. It lasted a minute, but it felt like an hour.
“You feel like an eagle up there,” he said. “You’re just floating around and enjoying the beautiful scenery.”
He does not think he will want to skydive again. He feels the same way about Longs Peak. He already has another adventure in mind.
He’d like to do a Battan Memorial Death March, a way to honor those who suffered from one of the more horrible stories of World War II. It would be 14 miles across a desert on loose sand. It would be hot. It could be miserable. It would, no doubt, be an adventure. Melinda’s already said she’s in.
— Dan England is the Features Editor for the Tribune. His column runs on Tuesday. If you have an idea for a column, call (970) 392-4418 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ DanEngland.
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