RIVER NORTH — Nik Wallenda says he expects his walk across the Chicago River from the top of the Marina City West Tower to the Leo Burnett Building to take about 12 to 15 minutes Sunday night, but it might actually take longer if the weather is better.
"It'll take probably longer if the weather's nicer, to be honest," Wallenda said Friday at a River North news conference in advance of "Skyscraper Live," his live television event set for 6 p.m. Sunday on the Discovery Channel. "I know that sounds crazy, but I'll be able to enjoy it more and relax up there and spend some time up there.
"If the weather is not playing nice, then I will get my butt across that wire as quick as I can," he added.
Wallenda also said he is looking forward to having a crowd below, unlike his similar televised walk a year ago over a section of the Grand Canyon. "I absolutely love entertaining people," he said. "That's one of the beautiful things about this walk over Chicago, that there will be a huge live crowd."
Wallenda said it didn't matter to him if Marina City residents cheer him on from their balconies — and even fire up the grill. "We're in a city, and I expect to hear sirens and I expect to hear cars and I expect to hear crowds screaming, and that's part of what I do," he said. "The more noise the better. The more cheering the better."
In case you haven't heard already, Wallenda will step off the Marina City West Tower 588 feet off the ground shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday and walk 454 feet up what amounts to a 15-degree incline to the top of the Burnett Building across the river, at a height of 671 feet. Then, if that goes well, he'll be returned back to the top of the West Tower and walk blindfolded the 94 feet across another wire to the East Tower.
"I look up at those buildings and, contrary to what you guys might think, that it would freak me out or stress me out, I get excited," Wallenda said. "It's definitely intimidating to stand on top of Marina City and look uphill at the Leo Burnett." But he said he would be focused and determined to make it across.
"I love Chicago. I love the skyline. And it's the Windy City," Wallenda said. "That's really what attracted me to this city in the first place, was that title 'the Windy City.' I love to continue to challenge myself and push myself to be better at what I do. What better way to do it than to do something in the Windy City — uphill at a 15-degree incline, and do the next one blindfolded."
Wallenda said he'd be relaxing this weekend ahead of the walk by taking his family to the Shedd Aquarium.
He said the height was almost inconsequential, adding, "I've lost several family members from only 30 feet off ground.
"It's hard for people to comprehend why would this guy do what he does," Wallenda allowed. "But it is truly my passion. My family's done this for seven generations and 200 years."
Wallenda rejected the notion of a tether or net, joking, "It costs a lot of money to put up a net. There's a lot of work involved." He added that the Flying Wallendas have always worked without a net, saying, "It's just the way we have performed for generations."
Instead, he explained what he called his "backup plan," saying, "If it gets bad enough, I go down to the safety of that wire and wrap around, and I'll wait for help. ... I'm confident that that cable is a safe haven and a net for me." Wallenda said his rescue crew is trained and ready to reach him in 90 seconds "anywhere on that cable."
He said he did not expect any 11th-hour legal challenges to force him to work with a net or tether, nor that he might be fined afterward for going without.
Wallenda said he made his walk a year ago across the Grand Canyon with winds gusting to 48 miles an hour and had trained in 60 and even 90 mph winds, but that he wouldn't call off Sunday's walk unless gusts were at 50 or higher.
Instead, weather forecasts expect temperatures in the high 30s or low 40s for Wallenda's walks Sunday, with winds of 15-20 mph. Wallenda said that, regardless, he would not be wearing gloves, as he never trains wearing gloves.
"I would be thrilled if the weather was like that," Wallenda said, adding that rain or fog also would not deter him.
Sleet fell on workers connecting stabilizing wires from the ground to the tightrope Friday all up and down the river, as winds gusted to 50 miles an hour.
"I'm glad that I'm not walking today, that's for sure," Wallenda said.
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