Death Tour

This week I’m going to tell a story about the worst wrestling road trip I’ve ever been on. It is in fact the worst trip anyone has ever been on. It wasn’t just one particular trip, it’s an annual event put on by Winnipeg wrestling promoter Tony Condello. Every winter Tony runs his “Northern Tour” of Northern Manitoba, which Don Callis, in his infinite wisdom, has dubbed “Death Tour”.

“Death Tour” consist of 7-14 wrestling shows held on Indian reservations in northern Manitoba. The reason Tony runs these shows in the winter is because these reservations are so remote, that the only way for us to get to them is on “winter roads”. “Winter roads” are temporary roads constructed over frozen lakes and swamp and are the only means by which to reach these reserves by land. Supplies are flown in during the summer, but apparently it is cheaper to truck them in, via these roads, in the winter. If you’ve ever lived in a cold climate, you have no doubt noticed how frost can buckle pavement in normal roads. Well when the road is just frozen tundra the effect is 10 fold. These roads are so bad, at times you can drive no faster than 5 miles an hour.

If the speed at which we travel isn’t bad enough, Tony usually rents a 12-passenger van to accommodate the 12 to 15 of us embarking on this nightmarish adventure. Now to truly understand the remoteness of this adventure you need to find yourself a map of Manitoba, Canada. Locate Thompson, because that is really the last end of civilization before we head north to the reservations. If you have a good map look for Oxford house, Norway House, or Berens River, these are the only reservations I can remember by name, any more. Oxford house was nearly a 20-hour drive from Winnipeg, 10-12 hours of which was on “winter roads”; it was our first stop the year I did “Death Tour”.

After the nightmarish trip to Oxford house, we arrived the morning of our first of two scheduled shows there. Because these shots are so far out, Tony has the shows guaranteed. Not that he is guaranteed any money, it’s just the shows can’t be cancelled, unless, of course, there is a death on the reserve. Funerals are a huge event up here and take precedent over everything else. Needless to say there was a death the night before we arrived. A suicide actually, which isn’t all that rare, and if you’ve ever been to a northern Indian reservation, you’d understand why. Long story short, the two shows were cancelled and the 12 hours of winter roads in that God forsaken van, were for not. Since these reserves are so remote, there aren’t any hotels up here for us to stay in. We actually stay in the schools in which we run the shows. We sleep in sleeping bags, on the gym floor and use gym mats (high jump pits, if we are lucky) for beds. We have the use of the home economics room to cook our meals, because restaurants are, like hotels, nonexistent up here. With the shows cancelled and no where to be for 2 day we get to spend 2 fun filled days and nights in the luxurious, Oxford house high school. I don’t remember if it was the weekend or if school was cancelled for the funeral, but we did have the school to our selves.

Now the only thing that keeps you sane on a trip like this are the boys with whom you are sharing the adventure. On this particular trip we had a lot of great guys, who are the reason that despite this being the worst trip of my life, I have a lot of fond memories from it. Among the list of wrestler desperate enough for work, to embark on this trip. The Natural or Natch as we usually called him (Don Callis, the guy I have to thank for booking me on this trip), Lenny St Clair (A fellow Hart Camp grad and close friend to this day) Paul Lazenby (former student of mine from the Hart Camp) Adam Impact (Edge), Christian Cage (Christian), Johnny “Hot Body” (Johnny Swinger, who we dubbed “shadow” because he was so quite). For the next two days we played basketball in the gym, watched old wrestling tapes of WFWA action (Condelo’s Winnipeg promotion) on a TV and VCR that Natch had managed to sweet talk out of the custodians, and ate some really bad food.

We brought all of our food with us because buying stuff up there was ridiculously expensive. I guess when you have to ship all supplies up that far; someone has to pay the freight. Mealtime was always an experience. Keep in mind this was 7 or 8 years ago and protein bars and meal replacement shakes weren’t as common. We would bring stuff like tuna, pasta, instant oatmeal, etc, stuff that was very easy to cook and transport. Natch and I would, at his request, share meals. We would pitch in what we had and inevitably I would prepare something for us to eat. Even back then, I had to take care of him on the road. More often than not we would just eat what I brought because his contribution was usually a can of corn-beef hash. Corn-beef hash is probably the cheapest and worst tasting substance canned for human consumption, but I think he bought it, not for the price but for the inconvenience to me. As good of friends as we are, he does love to be a pain in my @$$, and he does it oh so well.

After our two days killing time, it was time to move on, or so we thought. Tony despite doing several of these trips in the past had not remembered to bring an extension cord to plug in the van. If you live in a warm climate you may not understand this, let me explain. This far north it is cold, really cold, upwards of minus 50 degrees Celsius. I don’t think conversion into feirenhieght is necessary, I think you understand it’s damn cold. Well when a vehicle sits for any length of time at this temperature it tends to freeze up. If you plug in your vehicle, the block heater keeps your oil pan warm and allows the engine to start when it’s cold. Tony didn’t bother to do this, so needless to say we weren’t going anywhere. After having the van towed in doors to thaw out, we were off for another day of “winter roads”.

Some “winter roads” were worse than others. The ones over swamp were very bumpy and time consuming (like the ones to Oxford house) but the ones across lakes were sometimes very scary. The reason they were scary was because you were driving across the ice and there was the constant threat of breaking through. You would think at this temperature this wouldn’t be a problem but we did see a transport jack-knifed through a hole in the ice during this trip. Natch smartened me up ahead of time that Tony enjoys ribbing the boys about the ice cracking while he drives. After we stopped to see the transport in the ice, Natch looked at Tony, then nudged Lenny and I. A minute or two down the road Tony starts selling the fact that the ice is looking thin. After a while he starts to slow down, then hits the breaks goes into a slow skid and yells were going through. Natch, Lenny and I, who are in the front benches of the van, throw the doors open and jump out screaming. Shadow in a panic tries to bail out of the van. Adam, who is smart to the rib from previous years, grabs Shadow buy the jacket and tries to hold him back while getting out past him. I have never seen anyone turn as yellow as Shadow did that day. He was scared of going through the ice before our little rib, and I don’t think he relaxed once, the whole rest of the trip.

This is turning out to be a long story. I will have to continue it next week, when I will get into the match quality of these shows and the concept of “Killing the town”.

Till next week,
Lance