By Tim Gaynor
FLAGSTAFF, Arizona (Reuters) – When daredevil Nik Wallenda caught sight of the taut cable stretched over the yawning chasm of the Grand Canyon for the first time on Friday, his reaction ahead his death-defying high-wire crossing on Sunday was pure glee.
“It was funny, I couldn’t get the grin off my face. My playground’s there and it’s almost set up. It looks incredible,” Wallenda, looking relaxed in jeans and a blue T-shirt, told reporters at a news conference in Flagstaff, in northern Arizona.
“I know that I’m mentally prepared, I know that I’m physically prepared, and now I can see that wire in place and visualize where I’m going to walk and how I’m going to walk and what I’m going to see,” he added.
The self-described “King of the High Wire,” Wallenda plans to step out late on Sunday onto the two-inch diameter steel cable rigged across a remote section of the Grand Canyon with nothing but the Little Colorado River more than a quarter mile below.
The 1,400-foot (426.7 meter) walk will be the highest tightrope attempt ever for the 34-year-old, at a height greater than the Empire State Building. It will be carried live on the Discovery Channel, with a 10-second time delay.
A seventh-generation member of the “Flying Wallendas” family of acrobats, Wallenda made history last year by becoming the only person to walk a wire over the brink of Niagara Falls. He will be using the same cable in the attempt on Sunday.
He first dreamed of the challenge during a visit to the Grand Canyon with his parents as a teenager. He said he has been mentally preparing since a return in 2007 by imagining himself stepping onto a wire.
There was no immediate word on any potential financial gain for Wallenda, but he is listed by the Discovery Channel as one of the executive producers of the live broadcast of his high-wire crossing.
A Discovery Channel spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
GREATEST CHALLENGE THE WIND
Viewers watching the challenge live in 217 countries will be able to share Wallenda’s dizzying point of view from the cable during the 25- to 30-minute crossing, through the two cameras rigged to his body, he said.
“Although I won’t hear their thunderous applause, I know they will be applauding when I get to the other side,” he said.
During the crossing, Wallenda will wear moccasins his mother made with an elk-skin sole, which allow him to feel the wire and have an all-weather grip. He will hold a 43-pound (20-kg) balancing pole.
The life-threatening danger inherent in the attempt without a tether or safety net is ever present. Clan patriarch Karl Wallenda, Nik’s great-grandfather, slipped and fell to his death from a high wire in Puerto Rico in 1978.
Wallenda said his greatest concern is the unpredictable wind gusts that are prone to buffet the site in a remote section of the crimson-hued Grand Canyon on the Navajo Nation.
“The wind, it’s really an unknown … it’s really the only concern I have stepping on that wire,” he said, noting gusts of 38 miles per hour were recorded at the site on Thursday.
Wallenda trained in Florida during the gales of Tropical Storm Andrea to prepare, and used air boats to blast him with side and updrafts of 55 miles per hour.
A safety team, led by his father, will be on hand to pluck him off the cable within 60 seconds should he face a life-threatening situation on Sunday
“Even if the winds start to pick up, if there were crazy gusts, anything, I can go down to that wire and hold on and have rescue there very quick,” he said.
While his strong Christian faith, which he talks about in his new book “Balance,” plays little role in the training, it is clearly a comfort to Wallenda as he contemplates the danger to his life as he steps out into the void on Sunday.
“That’s really where I get my peace,” he said. “I have confidence that if something were to happen to me, I know where I’m going.”
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler)
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