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Torch Song

December 21st, 2009 · 1 Comment · Real-life Adventure Tales

Torch  Song

The Olympic Torch was passin through Oakville yesterday, had to go.  It was down at the huge “creek” that created the center of town at the mouth of the massive Lake Ontario.  There’s one main bridge, and at end of it is the town’s central library and performance center.

Some guy from Oakville won Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at recent Olympics, and he’s part of the Canoe Club based down on the creek below. He was supposed to take the Torch kayaking up the river, but it’s frozen. In fact, it’s totally freezing out, and I’m wearing my big winter jacket, but you wanted to show your red, so I pulled over a giant Team Canada hockey jersey, and looked like freakin Turk Broda on a bike in the circus.  And of course add a fire-red, torch-head blazing toque — just in case anybody hadn’t noticed me yet.


Adventureman and Mama Bear

As I’m reconnoitering on my shuttle-craft bike mission, I find the Olympic crew setting up base camp right in front of the library doors, and from a stunningly gorgeous Jordana Brewster who certainly lit my torch I charmed the exact route details.

I tie up Ranger, and went scouting on foot for the best scenic overlook on the now-confirmed mental map.  Turned out to be right at the beginning of the bridge, standing on the fat flat road barricade beams, where you could see everything that’s comin’ along the street and the whole bridge they’ve closed off for the “ceremony.”

With this perfect secret viewing stand scouted and secured by the Bears and their cubs, I decided to do a test run of the path I planned to run beside the Torch to the next exchange spot.

As soon as I zooped around the corner of the library, there’s the entire Olympic village!  Runners, officials, torches n everything!  In what appears to be their just-unloading staging area right in front of the library doors!  The cool white running suits, the white toques, and the white torches they’ll carry.  Just standing there near the vans.  Nobody’s around.  There are thousands of people lining the street, craning their necks for some dim view of the road, and here’s a half-dozen medal-winning Olympians standing a hundred feet behind them.

And they’re just as friendly as can be.  Some little kid comes up and the Olympian lets him pretend to hold the torch and have his picture taken. And I’m like, “I’m getting in on that!” And it’s this John Wood guy, who could be my new bff, won the Silver in ’76 for kayaking or some damn thing.  Zoom-bitty-zoom and I’m holding the bloody torch!  He’s like, “Here, I want you to feel how heavy it is.”  And sure enough it was pretty light for being such a big thing.  It’s about 3 feet high, and the flames come out of this black strip about 10 inches long with all these little holes, so if part of it blows out, part of it always stays lit.


Note:  there’s nobody around!

Course, right away I get on the cell and call Mama Bear and her cubs to scamper over quick and boom-bitty-boom, there’s dancing Bears in on the act!

Here’s a picture of me taking a picture of Mama Bear and brother Long John Silver . . .


and here I am in full Adventure blaze with Adam the Goldmedalman …

All of a sudden — a cheer goes up from the street. “Let’s see if we can get that perfect spot back!” And dashity-dash, sure enough.

Big parade float-type trucks roll slowly along the running route, with Canadian dancing girls looking almost hot in their parkas.  They use one painted lane of the roadway as the perimeter for everyone to stand behind.  A little sign on a truck is flashing, “The Torch will be here in a few minutes.” And everyone’s so waitin-for-something-to-happen they cheer the Coca-Cola truck!

Standing on high, Boom, I clearly see the flame early on.


Carrying the torch past us onto the bridge is 87-year-old Rhona Wurtele-Gillis, who, along with her twin sister, competed for Canada in Alpine skiing in the 1948 and ’52 Olympics.


And all the polite law-abiding Canadians are standing dutifully along the line without any barricades or enforcement, and then Boom, as soon as she’s past with the Torch, and, as respectful as we are, well, darned if there wasn’t just nobody there on the “bridge enforcement” per se, and what the heck?  The crowd quickly dissolves from two straight-line formations into this swoosh of amebas slowly then faster spreading like water across the empty bridge.

And I’m like, “Hey, this looks like a surf!” and I grab my board and jump right in, at first at a politely fast Canadian paddle, then the hell with it, I’m running — cut to the outside, zip-zam-zoodle, deak-I-am, and Boom!  I slant-right at the end zone and there’s the Aging Alpine Adonis standing beside a kid, and they light Torches — which is the big dramatic moment in these Olympic Torch runs — passing the flame from one to another.

They call it “torching off” — and there’s a whole ritual to it.  The lit torch and the unlit are both held high, perfectly perpendicular, and then they each tip towards the other until they touch, or “torch-off,” and hold them in an upside down V.  After the second torch ignites, they still hold them together for a couple seconds so there’s this huge raging double flame at the peak.  Then they separate out straight up and down, and the new person jogs off.  And after a quick minute or less of pics with the flame, there’s a specially trained fire guy at each exchange who extinguishes the torch.

So, this all happens right in front of me, and I’m like, “Wow!”

And then the kid with the fresh Torch starts — as per the revised route — back over the bridge the way it just came, in order to head to the Canoe Club.  But he’s running into the wind or something and his flame is really low, plus he’s not very tall, and all these people are still streaming onto the bridge right past him in the opposite direction and don’t even see him.

But I’m stickin with the flame, baby!  Totally running along side him.  And by the time we get off the bridge, the whole street that was just packed about 2 minutes ago is ¾ empty.  Nobody seems to get that this is the Torch coming back the same way.

I can see there’s still a huge crowd up at the intersection, so I cut off the corner and bolt for the “torch-off” point ahead.  And sure enough, I get right there just before the fame does — and the kid is handing off to none other than Oakville’s triple medal winner Adam van Koeverden!  I’m on the front line, three feet in front of him, and all the camera crews are rolling — The Shot of the Day.  This is the guy who carried the flag for Canada into the stadium at the last Olympics.  We don’t have too many multi-medal winners up here in Lil’ old Canada, so this guy’s The Man.  And I’m like, “Wow!”

And meanwhile he takes off down the road toward his Canoe Club.  I wasn’t planning to run anymore, but he was going kind of slowly, so I thought, “What the hell?” and I start jogging after him.

He goes down the big hill to the club and the creek, and I watch from this perfect view on the crest, the whole spectacle, camera crews and people running like chasing the bulls in Pamplona.

And all of sudden another kind of fake-out happens — somebody with an unlit torch (John) is walking away through the parking lot and taking half the crowd with him.  But the flaming torch is still blazing down by the river, says Neil, so what the heck? says I, racing down the mountain like a skier, wooo-hooo!  Zippity-zooming, and just as I get there, Kayaking Adam has his big red instrument hoisted over one shoulder, with the flame held with his other arm, and since he can’t paddle the water, he portages along the shoreline with both kayak and Torch!

Parts of the impromptu path have all these people clustered, and then there’s whole stretches with nobody but crazy me and him.  Oh, and the six guards.  They’re all in Olympic uniforms;   2 run in front, 2 on either side of the Torch, and 2 behind, creating this about 4-foot bubble around the Torch-bearer.

So we loop all around the park by the crick, and head back up to the Club and sure enough he’s handing off to brother John!  Because of the enormous crowd for this momentous Torch-off between their two famous champions, I’m jogging in the back of a parade.  But everybody bails as soon as we hit the hill back up, and sure as shootin it’s just me and Long John Silver & The Guardian Six-Pack running up the mountain, and I got my hands in the air clapping to people ahead.  Make some noise!

As we round the corner, a bunch of John’s friends are waiting and they’re yelling and he’s yelling and they’re waving and he’s waving and they’re cheering and he’s smiling and they’re snapping shots and he sees someone who makes him start to run over to the sidewalk and the two Captains in front simultaneously yell, “Hey, get back in line!  Stay in the center,” and he and I are laughing and he hollers to his friends, “I gotta stay on the straight and narrow!”


And all of sudden we hit traffic!  They don’t even close all the streets in this po-dunk town.  The Captains yell, “Goin’ Left” and they squeeze over and suddenly they’ve engulfed me.  I’m in the sacred circle.   And Mother Captain in front immediately looks back sensing her nest encroached, and before she could say anything, I go, “I know, I’m trapped!”  And the next available break in traffic I cut to the sidewalk, and even the cops are takin’ pictures.  It’s Brother John!  Oakville’s prized Olympic hero until Adam took a bite.

I ran over a mile of  The Torch Route with one of the greatest Canadian Olympians and several other glowing Silver foxes.  I’m exhausted, warmed by the flame, and fully stoked with the Spirit.


Ma’man, Long John Silver — his post-run torched Torch — and a Beaming Mama Linda Bear!

Hippie Holidaze!

and a Glistening New Year’s Olympics!

Brian O’Canada

For a complete guide to the hockey at the Olympics — go here.

For complete rosters of all hockey teams including  jersey numbers etc. — go here.

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For more Adventure Tales, you might enjoy . . .

The Jumping Out Of A Car While Being Robbed, Kidnapped or Killed Story.

or … the Setting A Record Driving up First Avenue in New York story.

or … the wild physical confrontation both Al Franken and I got caught up in at a Howard Dean rally in New Hampshire.

or … the time I jumped on the Pittsburgh Penguins team bus during the playoffs.

or … that whole Long Island Mansions Adventure with Steve Winwood, Sheryl Crow, Tom Cruise, Spielberg, Tim & Sarandon.

or … the time I scammed my way into the “On The Road” premiere in London in the courtyard of a palace,

or … snuck backstage at the world premiere of the new “On The Road” in Toronto and met up with Walter Salles,

or … our whole Adventure together at the New York premiere.

or … there was the greatest single night in New York’s history — when Obama first got elected.

or … the worst single night — when John Lennon was murdered.

or … there was the time The Grateful Dead came to town and played my 30th birthday party.

or … the night I went out in the Village with Jack Kerouac’s old friend Henri Cru on his 70th birthday,

or … the time I snuck into Dr. John and ended up hangin with his whole band.

or … the time I found that cat while out waterfalling on the Niagara Escarpment.

or … the time my mom and I got trapped in the worst hospital in Italy and barely escaped with our lives.

or … of course one of the great multi-day Adventures of all time — Obama’s first Inauguration.

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by Brian Hassett


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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Betsy Verrips // Dec 24, 2009 at 1:41 PM

    Hi Brian!

    Betsy Verrips here of Ancaster Ont! This story on the torch relay is fantastic and also hilarious.

    Just wanted to know if you got any pics of “the kid” who was on the bridge, torching-off with the Rhona (and then later in front of the library with Adam van K.) … as that was my son, Jake Verrips! Jake is a runner with the Hamilton Olympic Club.

    Your story was funny about how no one noticed him re-running the route Rhona has just done … due to the fact that he couldn’t do the planned leg down to the boat ramp.

    I was stationed in front of the library and I didn’t want to risk running up to see him on the bridge, in case I wasn’t nimble enough to get back to the place where Adam was starting his run. So, we were just wondering if you or anyone you know got any pictures of him running?

    Anyway, really enjoyed your take on the day!!!

    Betsy Verrips
    Ancaster ON

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