High-wire artist Nik Wallenda is poised to pull off his most daring stunt yet, crossing the Grand Canyon on Sunday night in a feat to air live on the Discovery Channel at 8 p.m. ET.
The seventh generation high-wire artist, 34, will cross a 1,400-ft.-long stretch of the canyon on a 2-in. steel cable, suspended 1,500 ft. above the Colorado River. Unlike his walk across Niagara Falls last summer – during which ABC required him to wear a harness – this time Wallenda will cross with just a 40-lb. pole.
"Part of my Niagara dream was taken away because I had to wear a tether," he told PEOPLE while in the midst of extensive pre-stunt training in his hometown of Sarasota, Fla. "This one will be done the way I want to do it: just me and Mother Nature."
A married father of three – "I'm a family man that does what daredevils do," he says – Wallenda used an airboat to simulate the "updrafts, down drafts, a lot of gusts" that he might encounter during the walk.
"I think the reason people think I have a death wish is that people can't relate to what I do," he says. "What I do is extremely calculated. I know that the wire is exactly the right tension, and I trained on it. Also, there are backup plans. It’s not as if I go, 'If I die, I die.' I train to stay on that wire. It's all about success."
As with all of Wallenda's stunts, the legacy of his great-grandfather Karl Wallenda, a famed acrobat who plunged off a wire to his death in 1978 (four other family members have died while performing), is his inspiration.
"I think of him on every walk I do," says Nik. "In order to carry on his legacy, I have to do it in a bigger and broader fashion."