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Wallenda confident as 'dream' gets near; Traces feat at falls to when he was 6

Nik Wallenda stared down the length of his 1,800-foot tightrope from the Canadian side of the Horseshoe Falls on Wednesday in the same way Tiger Woods might line up a championship-winning putt.

And smiled.

If there was an ounce of nervousness in the 33-year-old Wallenda, who was two days away from climbing on the 2-inch wire to traverse the Niagara Gorge a couple of hundred feet in the air, he wasn't showing it.

Wallenda met with fans, spectators and a gaggle of media -- many from the Toronto area -- during an afternoon appearance at the Welcome Centre at Table Rock.

His demeanor was friendly and relaxed. Wallenda beamed when talking about Friday night's internationally televised live prime-time walk from Terrapin Point USA to Table Rock. He smiled continually and gestured with exuberance.

"I am excited about it, and my entire family is excited," Wallenda said, explaining that "waiting for it" is the toughest part. " 'Like a little kid' is the only way I can describe it."

"This is a dream that I've had since I was 6 years old."

Clad in casual off-white pants, a Caribbean blue short-sleeved shirt and light-tan moccasins, Wallenda exuded the confidence of one who doesn't just hope to accomplish something, but knows he will.

That's just how he feels.

"I would love to get out on that wire right now," he said.

Asked whether he has given any thoughts as to what happens after Friday -- what could he possibly do for an encore? -- Wallenda was ready.

"I have ideas to maybe not top it but parallel it," he said. "I have permits to be the first person in the world to walk across the Grand Canyon, and they're already in place. So that will be the next walk that I'll probably do."

That's not to say he's looking past Niagara Falls.

He'll spend today and the early part of Friday doing much the same types of things he has been doing all along. Talking strategy with his father, uncle and engineers and meeting people. Then, as Friday's time of reckoning approaches, his focus will narrow.

Wallenda expects the 1,800-foot -- just more than a third of a mile -- walk to take 30 to 40 minutes to complete. He told The Buffalo News that he'll be talking with his father, Terry Troffer, during the course of his walk. The two expect to discuss the conditions out on the wire and continue talking strategy about how to make it across successfully.

"I'll be very focused on what I'm doing, very focused on being on the wire," Wallenda said.

He insists that all the cameras and live international broadcast make him feel "no added pressure."

"I enjoy it," Wallenda said. "It's just the story of my life."

As to the 10 p.m. start time, Wallenda said that's when there will be the most television viewers in the United States and Canada.

"ABC said, 'Can you walk at night?' I said, 'Absolutely, I've walked at night before, let's make sure we have the right lighting in place and it's no issue,' " Wallenda said.

Wallenda says he's been sleeping "just fine" in recent days. He doesn't expect that to change. Part of his strategy, he said, involves not eating much in the hours leading up to the walk.

Unlike the ornately dressed wire-walkers of a century ago, Wallenda said his wardrobe will be simple.

"I'm wearing basically an exercise suit like jogging pants that are waterproof and a windbreaker that is waterproof," he said, adding that he'll wear suede and elkskin moccasins made by his mother. The footwear is designed to help better grip the wire.

He joked that he'd carry his passport with him across the international border in case customs agents greeted him on the other side.

Wallenda noted that there is about a 32-foot sag in the length of the wire and that the cable can move about 8 inches in each direction.

Then, there is the issue of the tether. Wallenda long stated he wouldn't use one but was forced to cave to network pressure. The tether will be about 5 feet in length and will attach to his waist and drag behind him.

Although there has been speculation Wallenda might take it off once he gets onto the wire, he didn't say that Wednesday.

"I'm wearing a tether because they're making me wear a tether -- that's what's making me a little nervous," he said. "It's just an added thing on my body."

Wallenda has said previously that he would unhook the tether if he gets tangled out on the wire.

Those who meet Wallenda and watched him interact with gathered media were impressed by his pluck.

Vivian Fury and Khaleb Baker were visiting in Canada on Wednesday from Parkersburg, W.Va., and happened upon Wallenda's meet-and-greet with the public. They were were thrilled to be part of the action -- if only for an hour.

They both plan to watch the event on television Friday.

"It's always kind of fun to see something like this," Fury said.

Added Baker: "I think, 'Good for him.' I think it's pretty awesome."

After the roughly 90-minute session with the public, Wallenda headed out toward the platform to get a close-up look at the part of the wire where, if successful, his journey will end Friday night.

He did a 20-minute one-on-one interview with an ABC network crew from that spot and could be seen several times pointing up to and motioning across the wire. About a hundred or so spectators poured into the area to catch a glimpse of Wallenda.

Then, at about 4:30 p.m., Wallenda and his entourage piled into a black GMC Yukon XL sport utility vehicle and were off to their next stop as the hours ticked down toward his date with destiny.

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com