“I went around researching volcanoes for the last six or seven years, visiting several of them in person,” Wallenda tells PEOPLE ahead of his daring Volcano Live with Nik Wallenda stunt..“It was very important to me that it had an active lava lake at the bottom … [I wanted the] sound of it as that lava smacks.”
On Wednesday, the high-wire stuntman, 41, will traverse the mouth of the active Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua. Airing live as part of a two-hour special on ABC, the spectacle puts Wallenda across an 1,800-foot stretch of tightrope above a lava-filled lake in the vent below.
This will be the longest and highest high-wire walk that Wallenda — a seventh-generation member of the Great Wallendas — has ever attempted. He will also be the first person to walk across the volcano, which is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
“It’s not as though, like last week I was like, ‘Hey, let’s do this,’ ” jokes Wallenda to PEOPLE. “This is to hopefully inspire people, and encourage people to constantly push themselves … and that’s really what it’s about. In order to do that I’ve got to continue to push myself, and that’s why I choose locations like this. I’m challenging myself to be better.”
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE’s free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories
He adds, “I have been working on this volcano for a long time, and in fact, well before the Times Square walk, I had already gotten approval for this.”
Training has been happening for six months, Wallenda says — and it’s intense. He practices on a tightrope while wearing a gas mask and even blindfolded in prep for the thick gases produced by the volcano.
“I have been training on a wire that’s similar,” he explains, adding, “I’m training with some wind machines, just trying to prepare for anything I’ll face on that day.”
Wallenda says there’s always an “army behind-the-scenes” while he’s training and during the actual attempts, admitting, “It is very calculated … I don’t even call myself a daredevil.”
“There’s an entire team,” says Wallenda. “It’s exciting, it is sexy, it’s dramatic but the reality is, it’s fairly monitored.”
Wallenda thinks people tune into his death-defying stunts because “it is suspenseful, it is raw, it is real.”
“I think 90 percent of the people are on that wire with me and they’re stressed out and they’re anxious,” he tells PEOPLE. “So many people are dealing with the stresses and anxiety and fear that life puts in us and all of us are trying to get to the other side of that wire. We’re all on a wire, a tightrope of life.”
Volcano Live! With Nik Wallenda airs Wednesday, March 4, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.