Picture HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay, running from September 9 to October 15, means a fancy Purdue-designed, state-of-the-art, practically self-aware torch. There’s a GPS in the handle, Wi-Fi connectivity, and an HD microcamera. It’s basically Skynet with a flame.
It’s not just a torch because they felt like a torch. The image, of course, appears on the Indiana state flag, and atop the monument downtown. This is mobile Hoosier symbolism history, people. Recognize.
If it’s in Indiana and you’ve heard of it, the torch will be there. The Bicentennial Torch will travel 3,200 miles through all 92 Indiana counties, hitting 17 state parks, 260 cities, nine rivers and lakes, and 22 universities along the way. Torch-running happens six days a week (Monday is for resting) for five weeks. It’ll whiz by the Dunes, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, Conner Prairie, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Lincoln’s boyhood home. All told, the torch will cover about 97 miles a day.
The relay moves from south to north, echoing the way Indiana was settled. The route begins in Corydon—the state’s first capital, like you didn’t remember that from fourth grade—and ends at the State House.
The torch will hitch its share of rides. It’ll travel by Studebaker through St. Joseph County, by canoe on the Wabash, by boat on Lake Michigan, and on an IndyCar. Elsewhere, it’ll be toted around by a horse and buggy, farm equipment, and plenty of antique conveyances. Oh, and also …
… It will ride a roller coaster. The Torch will pass through Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in sunny Santa Claus for a speedy trip on a coaster. (It’ll be bolted to the car, so nobody has to cling to it through the loop-de-loops.) Usually, zooming at high rates of speed down hills makes fire go out, but that won’t happen because …
Thanks to fancy technology, and a good old-fashioned
windshield, the torch should stay lit throughout its entire
… Purdue students engineered this thing. Torches are usually pretty simple: They’re things you hold that burn. Not this one. Designed by a multidisciplinary team of 50 students, faculty, and staff from the Purdue School of Engineering led by Dr. Timothee Pourpoint, the Bicentennial Torch is fueled by Indiana-made E-85 fuel and is crafted from aluminum lithium alloy from Alcoa in Lafayette. Bonus for any klutzy torchbearers: If it tilts more than 45 degrees, the flame automatically goes out. Because the last thing we want is a Bicentennial fire.
The torch will broadcast its where-abouts. For the duration of the trip, the 23.5-inch-tall, 5-pound torch will transmit its real-time positioning. Through a mobile tracking app (App Store, Google Play), you can follow along on social media or by GPS. It’s like someone’s vacation post, except interesting.
There’s also a kids’ version. Fourteen inches tall and weighing less than a pound, the Bicentennial Torch junior edition is lit by LEDs and features a translucent flickering flame.
More than 2,200 torchbearers are carrying the flame. That includes Mary Lee Comer, a retired judge and former state ethics director. A runner with two Mini-Marathons to her name, Comer won’t be messing around with any silly walking. “The ancient Greeks ran with the torch, so I’m gonna run with the torch,” she says with a laugh.
Elvis impersonators are involved. The Torch lands on October 15 at the State House grounds, site of a splashy Bicentennial celebration that, among other things, will be teeming with people dressed as Indiana-related characters, including The King, whose last concert was in Indy. Uh-huh-huh.