STORY REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE LEWISTON MORNING TRIBUNE Brian Peters
ANATONE — It was a dream of Virginia Miller’s to be able to fly like a bird.
And to celebrate her 90th birthday, she did.
“I had to do something spectacular on my 90th birthday,” an excited Miller said before taking off in an ultralight glider from a makeshift airstrip near Anatone Saturday.
“I’ve always wondered what it’s like to float up in the air. I suppose I want to feel what it feels like to be a bird.”
A dozen-plus family members watched as Miller, her silver hair contrasting with the purple and black jumpsuit, climbed into the back of the two-person ultralight.
The yellow and black aircraft has an open-air cockpit with a hang glider overhead and a prop engine on the back.
“We came all the way from Seattle to watch this,” said Heather Hildebrant, 24, one of Miller’s 10 great- grandchildren.
“This is going to be really fun. We’re all jealous. We want to go, too.”
Miller, who lives in Clarkston, celebrated her 90th birthday Friday.
With a high whining of the engine, the small craft needed only 100 yards to pick up enough speed to take off and climb quickly into the perfectly blue September sky.
“A lot of them think I’m nuts,” Miller quipped before taking off.
“But that’s all right. I always said I wanted to do everything before I die. I know I won’t do it, but I got one more done.”
The pilot, Scott Johnson, made several low sweeps over the field, giving Miller and everyone else gathered a chance to wave as the aircraft headed off to fly along the Clearwater and Snake rivers around Lewiston and Clarkston.
No one who knows Miller was surprised by her adventuresome act.
“We went through the tail end of a hurricane and the cruise boat was going through what must have been 20-foot waves,” said Sally Rathbun, Miller’s daughter, who lives in Clarkston.
“And everything was closed down with people sick all over the place. And she said, ‘This is just like riding a bronco.’ ”
Up until Friday, no one was certain Miller would even be able to make her flight because of the restrictions on flying caused by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
“She has been looking forward to this,” Rathbun said.
“If she had gotten grounded, she would have been heart sick. Now she has to think what she’s going to do for her 95th birthday.”
A youthful 90, Miller volunteers four days a week at Tri State Hospital in Clarkston, helping Alzheimer patients stay active.
She also line dances two mornings each week and attends church.
“I think we’re Vikings,” said Mickey Irish, Miller’s oldest son, who lives in Lewiston and is seriously considering buying an ultralight of his own.
“I think we have the adventuresome spirit. I’ve got to see what’s on the other side of the hill all the time. I’m as bad as she is.”
With an easy landing, Miller came back to Earth singing the praises of her adventure and the new perspective she had gotten on the valley.
“There are crevasses and things we wouldn’t ordinarily see — places where people don’t get to.”
Johnson usually takes his passengers two to three thousand feet in the air.
“She loved it,” said Johnson, who owns and operates the U.S. AirBorne company. “She wasn’t nervous at all. She was telling jokes and telling me stories about when she was a young gal.”
Miller is the oldest passenger Johnson has ever taken up in his ultralight, but certainly not one of the weakest at heart.
“I even did some tight turns and some low passes, and she really enjoyed it.”
Miller had originally wanted to hang glide from the Anatone Flats down into the valley, but decided the ultralight would be the best ride.
“I’d really say people are missing something,” she said.
“You could just feel your wings go up and down. You just know how a bird feels.”