World Record Firewalk

July 2, 1998

"You're gonna walk on what?" That was the reaction most people gave me when I told them that Dai and I were going to be part of a group attempt at a world record firewalk. Once I explained, they still thought we were a bit nuts, but they were interested.

What was first envisioned to be a semi-private event, grew once the story broke over the AP. It grew into something that toward the end, seemed to have a mind of it's own. Media, deadlines, new people and just for fun, a personal stressor, all added to the merry mix. A special thanks to the BBC, ABC and the Discovery Channel for their help in reducing some of that personal stress.

In the beginning, we were thinking of having the walk at a neighbor's farm. As things progressed, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown was generous enough to allow us to burn a 165 foot strip on their campus. Thanks UPJ!

The firebed before lighting.
Setting up the firebed
It took Dai, Michael McDermott and Kent Reichersamer six days to gather, haul, cut and split the approximately eight cords of wood needed to construct the 165 foot firebed. Thanks to Terry Chrissy for lending us his log splitter. Michael built the firebed so that it would have plenty of airspace and room for the shredded paper. This special construction allowed the firebed to burn down evenly.

This part always makes me nervous.
The fire is lit
Once the bed was set alight, I was very glad the fire truck was there. We didn't need it, but I've never seen a wall of flame that big. It was comforting to know they were only a few yards away. The picture above shows what happened to the distance markers that had been painted onto the field when the wind shifted. Quick thinking Dr. Uldis Kaktins put people to work as markers instead. Yes, he waited until the fire died down. Turned out we didn't need markers. All 17 Walkers made it the entire length on their first attempt.

At this point, I was asking myself, "You're gonna walk on what?"
Almost ready to walk
Most of the Walkers took a turn at tending the firebed.
Tending the firebed

Wooden extenders were added to the handles of the metal rakes and shovels. Even with them, standing too close to the radiating bed was more than toasty and sure had all the Walkers wondering how they'd fair over the distance.

When all was said and done the firewalk was a success. I think most people, the Walkers and the Spectators, came away feeling the walk was worthwhile. The whole event was an adventure I know I won't forget.

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