Wallenda ready and so is Chicago’s weather
Loop North News

Nik Wallenda

Photo by Steven Dahlman

(Above) Nik Wallenda at a news conference in Chicago on Friday. (Click on images to view larger versions.)

Wallenda ready and so is Chicago’s weather

1-Nov-14 – As the season’s first snow fell outside Dana Hotel & Spa in River North on Friday, professional daredevil Nik Wallenda was glad he was not walking across the Chicago River until Sunday.

He received a weather forecast for Sunday night from meteorologist Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel, who told Wallenda it will be cold 600 feet up. The temperature will be in the low 40s when he begins his walk at about 7 p.m., dropping to the upper 30s.

Wind is the only force that could keep Wallenda off the wire. Although the wind chill will be no higher than 32 degrees, winds will be 15 to 20 miles per hour, well below his limit of 50 miles per hour. Wallenda says he is “thrilled” by the weather report.

The Florida native was eager to get to the podium and convince a room full of reporters that he is not a reckless daredevil, that his training has prepared him for whatever can go wrong, and that there is safety in the 454-foot steel cable, three-quarters of an inch in diameter, that is the only thing that will keep him alive.

Wallenda will start from the tiptop of Marina City’s west tower, a mechanical penthouse 588 feet above ground. He will wire walk across the river to the roof of Leo Burnett Building, which is taller and will require him to walk uphill at a 15-degree incline.

That task done, he will return at street level to Marina City’s west tower and walk a 94-foot wire to the east tower – but from and to the slightly lower observation decks that are only 543 feet above ground.

The first walk should take 12 to 15 minutes. Longer, if the weather is good, as he will try to relax and enjoy the moment. If the weather is worse, says Wallenda, “I will get my butt across that wire as quick as I can.”

The second walk will take two to three minutes. Viewers of Discovery Channel will see this as a split screen, with Wallenda on one side and commercials on the other.

“I’m living my dream,” he told reporters, “and to be right here in this beautiful city is just an honor. It’s just extremely exciting. I look up at those buildings and contrary to what you guys would think, that it would freak me out and stress me out, I get excited.”

Photo by Steven Dahlman

(Above) A spool of daredevil high wire is laid out on the Dearborn Street Bridge Thursday evening.

Wallenda arrived in Chicago on Thursday afternoon. That evening, as his high wire started its trip to the tops of Marina City and Leo Burnett Building, he made a surprise visit to Dearborn Street. He met with a crew that had until 6 a.m. to get the wire in place but the work appeared to be done by 3 a.m.

Every 25 feet, the crew attached a clip for the “sway guys,” smaller-diameter, more vertical lines that will help keep the main cable from swaying. Two of the guys are 800 feet long and traveled up with the main cable. Their biggest concern was that all those cables did not get tangled.

Photo by Steven Dahlman Early Friday afternoon, Wallenda was told that the main wire on which he will walk was “fully tensioned” and ready for use.

(Left) Wallenda on Dearborn Street next to Marina City on Thursday evening.

Hoping for the best conditions, training for the worst

Now 35 years old, Wallenda has been walking a wire since he was two and says his mother performed on a wire when she was six months pregnant with him.

In his hometown of Sarasota, Florida, he simulated the walk by rigging a wire that started at ground level but rose at the same rate and distance until it was 90 feet off the ground.

“Many people think, ‘He’s training, so it’s in a safe environment.’ Well, no, that’s not true at all. Actually, I’ve lost several family members from only 30 feet above the ground.”

He has never performed in public at the incline and distance he will face on Sunday. He is the first to admit that something could go wrong. If he runs into trouble, like a gust of wind, he will lower himself and grab onto the wire and wait for help. A rescue team will reach him, he says, within 90 seconds and he can hold onto the wire for 20 minutes.

“That’s how I can go out there so confidant, knowing that cable is a safe haven.”

Whatever happens will be captured by dozens of cameras positioned throughout the area for the 140-minute live broadcast, although there will be a ten-second delay.

(Right) Television production trucks have lined the east side of Dearborn Street between Kinzie Street and the Chicago River since early Tuesday morning. The trucks are from Peacock Productions, the television production unit of NBC News that produces Wallenda’s Skywire Live show for Discovery Channel. Game Creek Video, seen here, is a provider of TV trucks. Production crews are also utilizing an empty commercial tenant space on the concourse level of Marina City. Photo by Steven Dahlman

Lasik surgery inspired blindfold twist

For his second stunt, when he walks between Marina City’s two towers, Wallenda will wear a blindfold. That idea came from Lasik surgery he had last year to correct his vision.

“Leading up to that surgery, I think we all have those concerns or fears, maybe, of what if something happens to my vision during this process? And I thought, what if I lost my vision?”

Could he still perform as a wirewalker?

“I started training in the back yard with my eyes closed, walking back and forth. And then eventually – my wife practices with me and my mom is out there, my kids – and I said, ‘Hey, guys, I’m going to just walk and I want you to sneak up and just push me every once in awhile.’”

That escalated to shaking the wire and hitting the 24-foot-long, 45-pound balancing pole.

“I was amazed. I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that I can still stay on the wire through all of this.’” And it built my confidence to where I knew that I would be safe making this walk blindfolded between Marina City towers.”

On Sunday night – the more noise, the better

While walking a wire, a bee has stung him. Birds have landed on his balancing pole. He is not worried about distractions. And downtown Chicago will have one distraction he did not have over the Grand Canyon last year.

Thousands of people will watch from the streets below. The first 47.5 feet of his walk will be over the observation deck of Marina City’s west tower and then he will be just three stories above balconies full of people.

He expressed disappointment over a recent memo from Marina City’s residential property manager, urging residents not to yell at Wallenda or make “loud disturbing sounds.”

“There were all these restrictions about making noise and such. And I appreciate that but we’re in a city and I expect to hear sirens and I expect to hear cars and I expect to hear crowds screaming. The more noise, the better. The more cheering, the better. I get goose bumps thinking about it, hearing the roar of the crowd. That’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”

Walking between skyscrapers, he says he often talks to people on balconies. If only he was walking toward Marina City, he says he would talk to residents there. When asked how he feels about Marina City residents talking to him, Wallenda says he is fine with it.

“This is my life. It’s not as though I need complete silence. The noise doesn’t bug me whatsoever.”

Photo by Steven Dahlman

Follow the weather…

A small network of wireless weather stations has been setup to monitor wind conditions, including gusts and updrafts. The stations are located on Marina City’s east tower, its west tower, on top of Leo Burnett Building, mid-wire over the Chicago River, and one is at ground level. The information will be available to the public during the event at www.weatherlink.com.

(Left) Wallenda and meteorologist Jim Cantore prepare to do an interview for The Weather Channel.

By Steven Dahlman | Loop North News | sdahlman@loopnorth.com


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