Brendan Bannon for The New York Times
NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario — Perhaps only Laurie Martin and Steve Trotter can understand why anyone would be crazy enough to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls.
Seventeen years ago, they went over the falls together in a barrel. And lived.
“You’ve got to be a little off to even think of something like this,” Ms. Martin said on Friday, standing near the edge of the American side of the falls in a sundress and hat. She and Mr. Trotter had come to watch Nik Wallenda, the seventh-generation stunt performer, try to become the first man to cross the Niagara Gorge by tightrope in 116 years.
Ms. Martin’s own adventure in 1995 involved a recipe of moxie and tequila. She filled in at the last minute for a woman who had backed out of the ride with Mr. Trotter, at the time already a veteran barrel rider. Shen then spent four days in prison and was barred from entering Canada again.
Mr. Wallenda, by contrast, waged a long campaign with public officials on each side of the falls and is making his walk with their blessing.
The walk is set to take place on Friday night, just after 10 o’clock, and is estimated to take 30 to 45 minutes. It will be televised by ABC, which is lighting up the falls for the event. Mr. Wallenda will be the first to cross the gorge since 1896. While his 19th-century predecessors did a litany of increasingly daring feats — walking blindfolded, or manacled, or backward, or while eating an omelet — Mr. Wallenda will be the first to actually try to walk over the falls themselves, though ABC is requiring him to wear a safety harness.
“I have been dreaming of today nearly all my life,” Mr. Wallenda, 33, said in a message on Twitter on Friday. He plans to go from the American side of the falls to the Canadian side.
“Hopefully it will be very peaceful and relaxing,” he said at a news conference on Thursday afternoon. “Often I’m very relaxed when I’m walking on a cable like that. I’m sure there will be some tears involved because this is a dream, something that no one in the world has ever done.”
Officials on the American side hope the walk will bring some tourism to a town that has lost more than half its population in the last half century. And in downtown Niagara on Friday morning, a carnivallike atmosphere blossomed on a day with few clouds to be found. Fried dough cost $ 5, “Tightrope Tailgate T-shirts” from 97 Rock, a local rock-music radio station, went for $ 20, and for $ 6, there were small, chocolate replicas of the barrel used by Annie Edson Taylor, known as the first person to survive a trip over the falls in a barrel.
“I’m so excited we have a real daredevil!” said a beaming Mary Ann Hess, a Niagara Falls resident who is a barber and part-time chocolatier, who was selling the barrels.
Not long afterward, Mr. Trotter appeared and signed autographs. His business card describes him as a master oyster shucker, while his long blond hair and sturdy physique made him look, at 50, like a slightly younger version of Dog the Bounty Hunter.
“I don’t think I’d be doing something like that,” he said of Mr. Wallenda’s endeavor. “It’s a little too dangerous for me. He’d probably say the same thing about my stunts.”
What goes through people’s minds during such things?
“This is what I remember,” Ms. Martin said of her experience. “Coming down the river, we’re in the barrel. You can hear the ripples, ripples, ripples. Once you got on top of the falls, kind of a roar, then silence. And that’s when we dropped,” she said. “That’s the freakiest thing I can remember.”
Both she and Mr. Trotter were wearing five-point harnesses in a barrel that looked more like a space capsule. It now sits in a local daredevil museum, which plays a video of the shivering Ms. Martin, post-barrel ride, promising never to repeat the feat.