Nik Wallenda was within maybe a dozen feet of completing his world-record bike ride on a high wire strung 135 feet above the streets of Newark, N.J., when he suddenly stopped. With hundreds on the street below and millions of TODAY viewers watching live at home holding their collective breath, the aerialist’s bike started to slide backward on the upward slope of the cable, its bare metal rims unable to get a firm grip on cold steel cable.
“It was a little bit hairy for a minute there,” Wallenda would say after he finally coaxed the bike to the makeshift platform at the end of the 250-foot-long cable. “It was real scary.”
It couldn’t have been that scary, though, because moments later Wallenda told NBC’s Kerry Sanders on the roof of the Prudential Center about his next stunt.
“I’m going to walk across the Grand Canyon next spring,” the daring young man told an incredulous Sanders. “We already have the permits sealed, and we’re ready to go.”
Pause for a phone call
Back in the TODAY studio in New York, Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira and Ann Curry were equally incredulous. “My bladder can’t take it,” Vieira said of the prospect of a Grand Canyon crossing.
The three co-hosts had watched along with everyone else as the 29-year-old daredevil set out shortly after 8:30 a.m. on his record attempt. Wallenda began by walking across the cigar-thick cable with a 45-foot balancing pole.
Halfway across, he sat down on the wire. He put the balancing pole on his lap and hooked his left foot in a guy wire for balance before pulling a cell phone out of his hip pocket and punching in a number. A moment later, he was talking to the co-hosts as calmly as if he were sitting on a sofa back home.
“Why are you calling us, Nik?” Vieira asked.
Prepping for high-wire stunt
Oct. 15: Nik Wallenda prepares to set a world record for the highest, longest bike ride on a high wire.
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Wallenda ready to defy death on TV
Slide show: Death-defying stunts
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trueH6falsetrue1“I was looking for you,” Wallenda said cheerily. “Where are you?” He said that he was hoping one of the crew would have come to ride across the wire on his shoulders.
Asked how the stunt was proceeding, Wallenda reported, “It’s a little windier than I expected it to be.” But, he added, “It feels OK.”
Wallenda admitted that sitting down on the wire is easy. “Getting up is the hard part,” he said, before ringing off with a simple “I gotta go.”
He slipped the phone back into his pocket, then quickly got back on his feet, putting his left foot on the wire and slipping his right knee into position behind him.
It didn’t look hard; it looked impossible.
A sudden slip
Several yards from the end of his walk, Wallenda stopped, rested the pole on one thigh and waved to the crowd. Resuming his journey, he suddenly wobbled and buckled at the knees, squatting on the wire, certain death awaiting him if he fell.
He would say later that he was distracted by a piece of tape on the wire where it wasn’t supposed to be and lost his concentration.