Back in September, Gadling brought you news of Ukrainian teens capturing an insane bridge climb over the Moskovskyi Bridge in Kiev. But Russian teens recently topped this daredevil act with their own ascent of the recently completed Russky Island Bridge, which finally connects the very isolated island in eastern Russia with Vladivostok and the mainland.
Eighteen-year-old Raskalov, one of the Russian teens in the video, has devoted a blog to his extreme, free-climbing endeavors. The mind-blowing photos on his blog are from atop Russia’s tallest structures and include gorgeous scenery of famous Moscow squares, glimpses of snowy Siberia and more.
We recommend you watch the following video while on solid ground else you may get vertigo.
Nik Wallenda is a 32-year-old Florida native who plans to walk on a tightrope across Niagara Falls this summer. He’s a seventh generation daredevil who performs with his wife, and a dozen other Wallenda family relatives at venues around the world. We caught up with Nik to ask him about his plans, the potential tourism impact on the Niagara region, and his sanity.
Do people think you’re crazy for wanting to walk across the Falls on a tightrope?
They do, until they get to know me. People expect me to be crazy, but I’m a normal person who has an education but who just happens to do something else that’s run in my family for seven generations.
As I understand it, you’ve received permission to tightrope across the Falls on the U.S. side, but the Niagara Parks Commission on the Canadian side recently turned down your proposal?
That’s correct. But I’ve been invited by the Minister of Tourism for Ontario to meet with him, and Ontario’s Premier (Dalton McGuinty) said it was an extremely interesting proposal that deserved further review. So those are encouraging signs to me.
And if you don’t receive permission from Canadian officials, what’s your plan B?
I’ll walk across the American falls, starting at Goat Island. But I still hope we can walk across the international boundary, because it’s the 200 year anniversary of the war of 1812, and this is the longest peaceful border between two countries and I’ve always wanted to walk from one country to the other.
So one way or another you’re going to tightrope across the Falls this summer?
Definitely. It’ll happen in June or July of this year. (Press reports now indicate that the tentative date is June 15-17)
If you get permission from both countries where would your walk start and end?
I would start on the U.S. side on Goat Island, at the visitor’s center and I’d end on the Canadian side, right next to their gift shop, so I’d be walking directly over the Horseshoe Falls, which in the history of tightrope walking in the Falls, hasn’t been done in over 125 years. Actually no one has ever walked directly over the Falls.
So The Great Blondin and other famous 19th century daredevils didn’t actually tightrope over the Falls?
They did it over the Niagara Gorge, about a mile downstream from the Falls. There are a lot of myths about what those guys did. One of them is that the Great Blondin did a back flip halfway across. I’ve done this my entire life and its been in our family for 200 years and I can tell you that it is not possible to do a back flip on a walk like that.And there’s also a legend that the Great Blondin tightroped across with a stove, cooked omelets for people halfway across and then lowered himself down to the Maid of the Mist boat, where he served them to passengers.
Right, there are photos of him cooking eggs on the wire, but the stove came up on a tower that was lifted up to him. And his walks were about 60 feet above the water, whereas mine will be 160 feet above the water. But he did carry his manager across the wire on his back, so he did some amazing things and was a real marketing genius for drawing people to the Falls.
So you won’t be cooking omelets on your way across?
Probably not. But I’d like to do this several times, so I might build up to things like that.
The golden age of daredevils at the Falls ended around 1897 when a law banning “stunting” came into effect, is that right?
That’s my impression, but those early pioneers helped spark a tourism boom for the Falls. We’ve done an economic impact study for my event, and it showed that my walk would bring in about $120 million dollars worth of tourism over the next five years, with the day of the event itself bringing in about $20 million, just on the Canadian side. So it would be a huge impact. It’ll be carried live in primetime on the Discovery Channel and will be seen by about 600 million people worldwide.
And how many people do you estimate would actually turn up at the Falls to watch this live?
I did a walk in Pittsburgh where I walked across the Alleghany River, (see photo below) a few years ago where about 120,000 people showed up, so I’d say a very conservative estimate would be about 125,000 people on each side of the Falls.
If you’re able to walk across to the Canadian side, how long a walk is that?
It’s about 1,800 feet across and 160 feet high. My wire is about two inches thick in diameter, and it’ll be anchored to two construction cranes. I expect it’ll take 30-40 minutes.
You’re providing your own rescue team, so there is no fiscal burden on taxpayers in case you fall, right?
We have everything from rescue divers to our own rescue pilot that I’ve worked with before. There will be no environmental impact on the Falls whatsoever, and there’s no liability or risk for either side. I just broke a world record with my rescue team in which I hung by my jaw underneath a helicopter 260 feet above the ground. Realistically, the worst case is I grab down and hold onto the wire, and within forty-five seconds, they’ll pluck me off that wire. I train to hold my wire for up to 2 hours, and I train in high winds and rain, so I’m ready.
Why do you think “stunting” is banned at Niagara Falls?
Well, the Governor of N.Y. signed into law a one-time exemption to the stunting law for me and it passed 65-0 in New York’s senate- when else do you see Republicans and Democrats agreeing on something? The U.S. saw the value in it; they knew it would boost tourism in the area. On the Canadian side, the Parks Department told me they didn’t want a ‘carnival’ atmosphere and everyone laughs at that. Uhhhh, look around; there’s a huge Ferris wheel, and everything else a carnival would have. What I do is an art, it’s not even carnival or circus-like, so it’s kind of a joke.
Do you have insurance for this?
I do have liability insurance and life insurance. You can get anything for the right price.
What other records do you hold?
I hung by my jaw with nothing but my teeth- I bite down on something and hang. I also have the record for the highest bicycle ride on a wire, which is about 278 feet; the longest distance on a bicycle, which was about 260 feet across; my mom and I also have the record for the highest duel walk; I have the world record with my family for the 8 person pyramid on a high wire, and there are others as well.
Have you had nightmares about falling off the wire over the Falls?
I’ve never had a nightmare about performing. But I do dream about these things and that’s where I get some ideas from. For example, I have a permit to tightrope across the Grand Canyon and plan to do that in the next few years as well.
Will your family worry about you up on that wire?
I’m married and I have three children. My kids are 8, 10 and 13. They all walk the wire already; we’ve been doing this for eight generations, so it’s in their blood. I don’t think they’ll be too nervous. They’ve seen me doing this stuff their whole lives. If you’re dad’s a roofer, you’re not going to stop and watch in awe when he’s putting a roof on someone’s house. That’s what he does.
Will you do any of the normal touristy activities when you’re at the Falls this summer?
I haven’t been on the Maid of the Mist, so that’s something I’d like to do. I love the Falls. It’s one of the great wonders of the world. Niagara Falls is going to be like a second home to me in the future. I don’t plan for this to be a one-time event; I’d like to set up a summertime show there, so we can keep this going.
When you step onto that wire and look out at the Falls, will you be even a tiny bit scared?
No. I started walking on wires when I was two. I respect it and realize there is danger, but I train and I over-train for this, so once I get there it makes it that much easier.
You won’t even have a few butterflies?
I’m sure I will, but it’s hard to tell. The hardest part will be waiting for the camera crew to tell me it’s O.K. to go, because with all the pent up excitement, you just want to get out there and go. So there’s some anxiety and anticipation, but excitement as well. This is a dream and I’m living it.
But will you look down at all, or is that taboo?
Absolutely, I look down all the time. I plan to admire the Falls while I’m up there. It’s actually relaxing to walk a wire, believe it or not. My great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda, said ‘life is on the wire, and everything else is just waiting,’ and that is so true to us. It’s peaceful and relaxing to be on that wire alone, just me and the maker.
Daredevils the world over have found numerous ways to conquer their fear of heights. There’s Sydney’s Harbor Bridge or the terrifying El Caminito del Rey in Spain. But for sheer vertical height or astounding views, there may be no more perilous set of steps than the Ha’iku Stairs on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.
Currently off-limits to the public, the Ha’iku Stairs is a series of nearly 4,000 steps rising 2,800 feet to a peak in the Ha’iku Valley. Originally constructed in 1943 to help the Navy install and maintain a series of radio antennae, the climb has long been an underground hiker favorite for its ridiculous heights and amazing views. Take a look at thesephotos and you’ll understand why the stairs were nicknamed the “Stairway to Heaven.”
Don’t dust off your climbing shoes just yet. The area has been closed to visitors since 1987 and trespassers risk serious injury or death on the poorly maintained trail. Thankfully, groups like the Friends of Ha’iku Stairs have been lobbying for the site’s eventual reopening. You can sign a petition on the site to help voice your support and help renew public access to this unique place. Let’s hope this one-of-a-kind attraction will once again see the light of day.
After Phil recapped that La Paz, at nearly 13,000 feet is the highest capital in the world, and that the feud between Starr & Nick and Christy & Kelly is still a plot twist, the teams headed for Auckland, New Zealand for the 4th episode of The Amazing Race.
Heading to Auckland from La Paz was a slam dunk. Everyone, including Dallas who said, “I don’t even know where New Zealand is,” was on the same flight after they searched out their options via the Internet at the La Paz airport.
After arrival, once they dashed out into the dark of night to find their specially marked cars, the pack dispersed between those who did not get lost and those who did. This was the first time the teams relied on their own driving except for the trip to the airport in Los Angeles.
All remembered to drive on the left side of the road, except for the few moments when one team or another had to double check.
Travel Tips from episode 4:
Use an Internet cafe at the airport if one is available to search for flight options.
If you need to use the Internet when at an airport but you don’t have a laptop, ask someone if you can borrow his or hers.
If you have a flat tire on a highway, there’s nothing wrong with waving down cars until one stops.
Use careful, methodical observation to find what you need for a successful journey.
Head flashlights make for handy gear.
Recaps and Cultural Observations:
If one is going to drive on the opposite side of the road from which one is used to, the middle of the night seems to be a good time to try it. As soon as the teams jumped into their cars, driving wasn’t the hard part, although Ty and Aja had a flat tire. I swear. Every season of The Amazing Race, one team ends up with a flat. I’m a bit suspicious.
Neither Ty or Aja knew how to change a tire. Aja did the sensible thing. Eventually, if you jump up and down, shouting and waving your arms enough, someone is bound to stop. A burly New Zealander came to the rescue changing the tire lickety split, and this duo, who are definitely NOT having the time of their lives–Ty thinks he should have a T-shirt made that says, “I’m with Fidel”–were on their way once more.
Where were they all teams heading, some with more luck than others? To Gulf Harbor where they were to untangle a Gordian Knot, a big ball of intricately wound rope that looked like a large cat toy. Inside the knot was a clue to the next destination. Those who did not get lost arrived at the dock in the dark. This is one place where head lamps came in handy.
Tina & Ken, on the ball and still working on keeping their own marriage knot tied, untied the knot ball quickly, thus were able to take advantage of the Fast Forward to Auckland’s Sky Tower, the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere.
Here their task was to don sky diving like attire and head up to the very, very, very top. The last part of the feat involved scaling up the building’s radio tower in order to retrieve a Travelocity gnome. Tina, afraid of heights, stilled her nerves by using common sense. There’s no way that the ropes and harness would let her down, she figured. She knew that she wouldn’t fall.
Of course not, that would make for very bad TV. The climb was not easy due to the winds that swayed the tower back and forth. What a rush, though.
As Ken & Tina are playing dare devils on the tower, everyone else either struggled to find the dock or finished the Gordian knot task to head to their next stop at the summit of Mount Eden, the highest point in Auckland and a dormant volcano. This time the teams could drive.
At the top were a slew of Maori warriors doing their warrior routines. The task was to match a drawing of ancestral markings of a Maori warrior’s facial tattoos with the markings of an actual Maori. Because Maori facial tattoos are like fingerprints, no two are alike, this highlighted one aspect of New Zealand culture.
Another task where head lamps came in handy for the teams that arrived here in the dark. Unfortunately, cultural sensitivity headed a bit south with a couple of players. Dallas said he hoped the warriors didn’t eat his mother and one of the divorcees, (they still look a like to me) said, “I’m going to have nightmare about these guys. They’re really scary.”
I wanted to rap each of them upside the head. Dallas’s mother, however, said, “You’re beautiful,” to her warrior and Terrence had the common sense to ignore Sarah when she yelled out, “kiss him, kiss him” after he made his match.
One of the funniest parts of this episode was when Christy & Kelly parked their car at the bottom of the Mt. Eden and ran up. As Andrew & Dan were driving up on the road, they saw the women running up the side and yelled out from their car, “Whey are you walking? It said to drive.” The women insisted they wanted to run. Whatever.
Poor Marisa & Brooke, who are as sweet as can be, had the hardest time getting ahead from the get go. These two have no eye for detail. They got lost out of the airport. At the dock, they ran right past the knot even though they arrived there in the daylight. At Mt. Aden, they had better luck which earned a hug from the Maori.
Next after Mt. eden came a trip to the top of City Life Hotel where they were to look for Travelocity gnomes through binoculars. Once the gnomes were located, they had to retrieve it from either their high or low places and head to the Road Block at the town of Te Puke.
In Te Puke, at Kiwi 360, a landmark that celebrates the kiwi, they could either head to the orchard to climb into a huge vat of kiwis, and in their bare feet, stomp enough of them to make 12 quarts of juice and drink a glass each or head to Blokart Heaven to assemble a blokart and drive it around the track three times.
A blokart is similar to a go-cart but uses a sail instead of an engine to propel it. (This photo is from the Blokart Heaven in Tauranga. There are blokart associations in New Zealand.
Kiwi stomping is hard work and unpleasant. According to each of the team members who tried, the vats were lined with sharp rocks and the kiwis were rough. Toni evoked images of the hilarious I Love Lucy episode when Lucy and Ethel stomped grapes.
Sensitive feet did Ty and Aja in so they headed to Blowkart Heaven to try that. So did Dallas & Toni. Neither of those teams checked to make sure the spout was plugged first before switching tasks. Terrence and Sarah, who figured out that detail first headed quickly to the Pit Stop.
By this time, long after Ken & Kim made it to the Pit Stop at a homestay sheep farm and golf course called Summerhill via helicopter, and Starr may have broken her arm when her blokart overturned for the second time, Marisa & Brooke and Ty & Aja struggled to finish their day in the dark. Even though Andrew & Dan had a heck of a time putting their cart together, they were shocked and over the top delighted to find out that they came in sixth just a little after Kelly & Christy.
As sheep parted at the end of the episode, there came Aja and Ty, exhausted and unsmiling.
“Thank the Lord,” said Aja raising her hands when they found out they were 7th. I was happy for them, but felt bad for Marisa & Brooke. I was rooting for these two during this whole episode because, of all the teams, they seem to have enjoyed themselves and each other the most.
Even when they were stomping kiwis in the dark, one of them said to the other, “I’m so proud of you.” No matter where they were, they seemed to relish the interactions with the local people.
At the Pit Stop, when they found out they were last team in, they teared up prompting Phil’s dad who was waiting with Phil to wrap his arms around them in a big, comforting hug.
Marisa & Brooke’s travel words of wisdom: Travel is a chance to find out more about each other and no one else in their lives has shared these travel experiences with them.
“No one can take that away. Brooke and I will be best friends forever,” said Marisa.