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78° North

Oct 19, 2016 - We arrived in Oslo, Norway this morning after an over night flight from Ottawa.

We usually have to run to a gig as soon as we arrive in Europe, but this time we actually had the day off. Tomorrow, we leave first thing in the morning for the Colorline Blues Cruise.

Thurs, Oct 20 - While we were waiting to be picked up for the cruise this morning, JW and I killed time by comparing our lucky socks...

(in the battle of lightning bolts vs polka dots, I think I win).

It turns out a bunch of bands going on the cruise were all staying at the same hotel. We got picked up together, and drove out to the ship.

We found this guy on the way to the boat... you can't take us anywhere without things getting silly...

We got all settled in, and I even have my very own adorable little room complete with a port hole window.

I think the most shocking part of this room is that you could actually sleep 4 people in here. See those panels in the ceiling? They fold out into extra beds. Luckily, it's just me in here. You can't tell from this photo, but about 3 seconds later the entire contents of my suitcase exploded all over the room. Yep, I'm a messy person.

I’ve never been on a big cruise ship like this before, or even slept on a boat, and I have to say it’s all somewhat overwhelming. This place is enormous, and has many shops, restaurants, and bars...

And this super fancy restaurant, which is at least double as fancy just because it's on a boat. many titanic jokes, so little time...

We spent most of the day wandering around the ship exploring, then in the evening, we performed in this massive room…

Here are a few shots from the show...

​Another cool thing about being on this boat, is that there are tons of other great bands to check out, including Sugar Ray Rayford. We actually met him once before in Phoenix , AZ, so it was really cool to see him again. Man, this guy can sing!

Fri, Oct 21 - Today I had more time to really explore the ship. It was pretty cold outside, so I had the "sun deck" all to myself.

And more time to check out great bands, like Egidio Juke Ingala and the Jacknives, a sweet group from Italy.

We played again this evening, back on the same crazy stage.

The people on this boat sure know how to party.

Also, you can't put a bunch of blues musicians on a boat without it turning into a huge jam at some point...

And this is how the three of us jokers look standing on a boat.

Sat, Oct 22 - As soon as we got off the ship this morning, we got straight into a van to drive 7 hours to play at the Fjord Blues Festival in Sandane.

Egidio Juke Ingala & the Jacknives were also playing the same festival, so we all travelled together. They are a really great group of people/musicians, and although we were a bit squished, it was a nice change to travel with another band. We are so often on the road for weeks or months at a time, and barely see other bands at all. It’s so cool to chat with others who are going through similar experiences.

The drive had some pretty beautiful scenery, and there was even a short ferry ride.

We arrived with enough time for sound check, dinner, and a quick rest before the show.

We got to open for the Danielle Nicole Band, and hang with them after the show. And of course we got to hang with our new friends from Italy too...

(JW-Jones band + Egidio Juke Ingala & the Jacknives - 1 bassist...)

Sun, Oct 23 - We had to leave first thing this morning to head back to Oslo. I can’t get enough of this amazing Norwegian landscape.

Mon, Oct 24 - A day off meant time to explore Oslo, the capital of Norway. Figuring out how to get around in another country is always a challenge, but it’s also half the adventure. We teamed up with Egidio Juke Ingala and the Jacknives to figure it out (after the 14 hours round trip, they are now our new best friends). After a few false starts, we were finally making our way downtown.

Here are some random scenes from around Oslo...

I'm not going to lie, this little girl statue scared the crap out of me when I first saw it...

This one too.

Tues Oct 25 - Tonight we were back together with several more bands from the Blues Cruise, to perform at a charity concert in a church.

We managed to get almost everyone together for a group shot:

And we had lots of time to share laughs and stories backstage before the performance with all of these great bands.

Each band played 2 songs, which sounds easy, but with only a couple minutes to get on and off stage, it was kinda stressful, especially in front of a couple hundred people.

When it was our turn, my cables somehow got all tangled up and wrapped around me and my guitar stand. The MC turned to us to say "all ready?", and I felt like I had been mummified by patch cables... "uh, no, not ready". It probably only lasted 30 seconds, but felt like at least 10 minutes.

The performance went by in a blur, and although I don't often get nervous performing any more, my heart was racing the entire time.

How did all the other bands seem to get on and off stage so gracefully?!?

After arriving back at the hotel, it was still rather early, so we went to hang with Victor Puertas and the Mellowtones (from Spain) over at another hotel cause their lobby was way cooler. We got into a game of foosball, which it turns out I am very bad at.

Wed, Oct 26 - Today was a very long day, since we had to check out of our hotel rooms at 1:30pm, and then spend the rest of the day killing time in the lobby before our night flight to Svalbard.

Egidio Juke Ingala and the Jacknives, as well as Victor Puertas and the Mellowtones were also travelling to Svalbard, and staying in the same hotel, so we were all in the same boat (this time a figurative boat, as opposed to the literal boat we were all in earlier in the tour. Hahaha. Sorry, I couldn't resist). We all made it through by joking around with each other about the long wait, and drinking too many coffees.

I also spent some time learning about Svalbard, and it seems like a pretty unusual place. Watch this video if you feel like knowing more...

The night flight to Svalbard wasn’t too long, but there is one point where they land the plane, make everyone get off and go through customs, then get back on the plane to finish the journey.

There was a nice feeling of camaraderie through it all since it seemed as though everyone on the plane was heading to Svalbard for the Dark Season Blues Festival, just like us. There were a lot of musicians, but also volunteers, and people just planning to attend the festival.

It was 3am by the time we made it to the hotel, and we were immediately handed packages with all of the information and passes we would need for the next few days, and sent off to bed. That's definitely my kind of greeting.

Thurs, Oct 27 - I was pretty excited to wake up in Svalbard today. We are legit in the Arctic, and we won’t see the sun again until we head back to the mainland. This is an island that is more populated by polar bears and snowmobiles than by people. It is the northernmost town with a permanent settlement in the world.

The blue dot in the top right is my current location. The little house on the bottom left is my home in Ottawa.

Getting out and walking around today was not as cold as I expected it would be, since it’s only around 5°C (or 41°F for my American friends).

I wasn’t expecting these cool mountains...

We performed twice tonight. This first show was at the opening concert for the whole festival. Once again, we were sharing the stage with a bunch of bands, and only performing 2 songs each. I learned my lesson last time, though, and carefully wrapped a single (short) cable to bring on stage.

Also, Victor Puertas joined us for a song!

And here's their whole band tearing it up!

(Victor Puertas and the Mellowtones)

Later, we performed in a packed club as the last band of the night. If I thought people could party on a boat, it’s nothing compared to how they party in the arctic.

Fri, Oct 28 - After I saw the mountains yesterday, I knew I had to get out for a hike. There were a couple problems with this plan, though. First of all, no one is allowed to leave the city limits without a gun. Remember how there are more polar bears than people? Well, you don’t want to run into a polar bear without a gun.

The second problem was that I didn’t really bring any appropriate clothing. When I was at home packing, I had figured we wouldn’t be outside too much, and that as long as I put on lots of layers, I wouldn’t need a proper winter coat.

Anyway, it turns out you can hire a guide with a gun to take you on a hike, so that solved the first problem. It also turns out that freezing to death doesn’t bother me all that much. I went ahead and booked the guide, despite reading several warnings about the need for appropriate clothing and footwear.

Then I convinced Mat to join me, even though he was not any better equipped than I was.

I think I managed to cram myself into about 8 or 9 layers of clothes, plus hat, mitts and scarf. The only real problem was that all I had were regular running shoes.

When the guide arrived to pick us up, she looked us up and down like we were crazy and asked if we had any warmer clothes, or better shoes. We both managed to convince her that we would be fine, but she sure didn’t seem confident about it.

We picked up one more person who would be coming along on the hike, and then drove to the edge of town.

We started hiking, and it was totally fine! The ground was mostly dirt since it hadn’t really snowed yet, and after about 10 minutes we were all sweating and removing layers anyway.

As we approached the city limits, we paused to allow our guide a moment to load her gun.

We continued on, and I was still feeling quite warm and comfortable. Then, it started to snow. A lot. At first it just seemed beautiful.

As we continued, though, the snow piled up, making the trail increasingly slippery. The snow was sticking to my clothes, which weren’t really the right type of fabric for the weather.

It didn’t take long for everything to start feeling damp. The good news, though, was that it was still really rough going, so the physical exertion was keeping me toasty warm.

Here's Mat wondering what the heck I got him in to...

When we made it up the first section of the mountain, we paused to put spikes, supplied by our guide, over our shoes. The next part of the hike would be across a glacier.

I expected the glacier to be slippery, cause you know, it's a giant thing made of ice, but it was even worse than I though it would be. I fell a few times, and it was clear that there was a real danger of sliding right down the side of the glacier.

After a little while, I got the hang of digging the spikes into the ice, and stopped falling so much. Also, did I mention that the glacier was such a cool colour of blue?

I'm going to be honest, this is the most I've ever had to use the word glacier in my entire life.

As we climbed higher, it got colder and windier, so we all began piling our layers of clothing back on.

Although the sun never comes above the horizon at this time of the year, there are several hours that are pretty light during the day. As the dark season progresses, those hours get shorter and darker, until it basically feels like night all the time. For us, though, it has only been a few days since the sun disappeared beyond the horizon.

I’m saying all this because we left on the hike around 2pm, and as we finished crossing the glacier, it had quickly gone from reasonably light to completely dark. The wind also began to pick up fiercely.

On the other side of the glacier, we followed our guide along a crevice looking for the best place to pass over. She told us that some points are deep enough to fall into, and others are shallow and easily crossed. The snow had continued since early on in the hike, so the crevice looked like a completely innocent dip.

Our guide used a long pole to poke at different places in the crevice to test its depth. After about 10 minutes she found a safe spot to cross.

The final leg of the hike would be up the steepest part of the mountain yet. Before we began the ascent, the guide warned us that we may need to turn back before reaching the top, for safety reasons.

I wanted to make it to the top regardless, and it seemed that everyone felt the same way. As we climbed up, the wind became so strong, we were all being knocked back several steps at a time with each gust.

We pressed forward, and when we were just passed half way, our guide called it, saying we should turn back.The top of the mountain is a narrow ridge, and it would be too dangerous to stand there with the gusts of wind.

Up to that point, I had been perfectly warm, but as soon as we turned around, and began walking down hill, the combination of the strong wind, and reduced exertion started to take its toll on my body temperature.

Our guide took us hunting for a cave where we could be out of the elements for a moment, and eat some food before heading back to town.

I started getting colder and colder, and could no longer feel my feet. I could totally handle the discomfort, but I was starting to get worried about losing a foot or a few toes…. I mean, that’s exactly how these things happen, right? Like, if someone were to tell you they lost a foot to frost bite, hiking in the Arctic would not be a surprising beginning to the story. This is how I imagine the conversation would go:

Person who lost foot to frost bite: "So, I was on a hike in the Arctic..."

Other person: "Mhmm. Go on... actually don't, because this story pretty much tells itself."

Even worse, this is how my story would actually have to start:

Me: "So I was on a hike in the arctic... in running shoes... with no winter coat... in the dark..."

Other person: "No, please, just stop talking, I can't hear any more of this. You are sooo stupid! Didn't you ever hear about the people who died climbing mount Everest, and they just LEFT the bodies there frozen solid? Didn't you ever hear about that plane that crashed on a mountain and the survivors ATE each other? You deserve to have lost your foot. In fact, you should have lost both."

We finally found the cave, and it was pretty amazing. We were actually underneath the glacier. We each had a thermous of hot water, and a package of freeze dried food. My hands were so cold, I could barely tear the package open. I was trying to play it cool though, because I had really talked a big game about how fine I was going to be.

I could tell that Mat was cold too, but he was also downplaying it.

I have to admit that visually, the food resembled some kind of brown goo. Luckily, it actually tasted amazing. When I said so, our guide warned me that it would never taste as good sitting back at the hotel room. I know it’s true, cause I was so hungry and cold, and it was so hot, and marginally food-like.

After our brief pause, I had only gotten colder. The hot food hadn’t seemed to help at all. I knew we still had a long way to go, so I made a few bargains with myself, like, I’ll willingly lose 1 toe, so long as I get to keep the rest of my foot.

We picked up a good pace on the way back, and miraculously the feeling began to return to my feet. After about 15 minutes, my entire body was positively toasty again, and I knew I was going to survive, and even get to keep all of my toes.

As I warmed up, I started to feel positively indestructible. "Ha-ha arctic mountain, I laugh in your face! You thought you would get one of my feet, but you were no match for my Airwalks, or my 9 layers of clothing!"

There wasn't much talking during the hike, since we were out of breath, and walking in single file, but as we got closer to home, everyone seemed to get a bit chattier. I promised Mat that the next adventure I invited him on would not involve the possibility of freezing to death. Probably.

I arrived back at the bottom of the mountain positively worn out, but feeling so alive. I mean, an adventure isn't an adventure unless there is some serious threat of death or dismemberment. Right? ... RIGHT??!

The hike lasted around 7 hours, and according to my phone we travelled around 18km.

Back at the hotel I had the best shower of my life. Mat, JW and I reconnected for dinner, and to enjoy the bands at the festival that evening.

We found out that while Mat and I were off freezing to death on a mountain, JW went dog sledding. When I saw the pictures of him playing with some of the puppies, I was pretty jealous!

Sat, Oct 29 - When I woke up this morning I felt as though I had been hit by a truck. Literally every muscle in my body was sore. Even still, I managed to get up in time to participate in the bus tour which the festival had arranged for the musicians to learn more about Svalbard.

We heard lots of great stories about the history of the city, and stopped for some cool photos.

I don’t know what this sign says, but I think it means turn back unless you want to get beat up by a polar bear.

We also stopped by the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, (more colourfully know as the Doomsday Seed Vault). I know it just looks like a block of cement, but it’s actually pretty cool. Countries from all over the world send seeds to be stored in this facility as a back up plan in case things ever go horribly wrong.

This is just the entrance, the actual vault is inside the mountain.

I can’t get over how cool the landscape is here. So desolate and beautiful at the same time.

At the dinner buffet this evening, there were some unusual delicacies such as seal, and smoked whale. I took a small piece of each to try. The whale looked and had the texture of steak but tasted like fish. It was a little unsettling, but not too bad overall.

The seal was black, and rubbery looking. The flavour and texture defied description, and would need an entirely new category to fully portray how horrible it was. Even though it was only the tiniest of bites, it took everything I had to just swallow it, since it seemed rude to spit it out. It was truly one of the worst things I've ever put in my mouth.

JW also took some whale to try, even though he had tasted it the last time he was in Svalbard... his reaction: "Why do I keep trying to eat whale?!?" I don't know, dude, I really don't know.

Tonight we performed on the festival’s main stage, again as the last band of the night.

Sun, Oct 30 - Today was our last day in Svalbard. We connected with our friends Egidio Juke Ingala and the Jacknives once again to visit the Svalbard museum. They had some nice exhibits about the history and animal life on the island.

Is this seal giving me the bedroom eyes?!

The final event of the festival was a huge jam with all of the bands in attendance. I got to perform with a bunch of great musicians, including members of the band "Freightrain" from Buffalo, NY. They have also been on this journey with us since the Colorline Blues Cruise.

Here's a picture of them rocking out on the blues cruise...

And JW got to play with a pretty cool group which consisted of members of Egidio Juke Ingala & the Jacknives, and Victor Puertas & the Mellowtones.

Our flight was in the middle of the night at 2:30am, so even though the jam was still in full swing, we had to leave. We headed back to the airport with Egidio Juke Ingala & the Jacknives, Victor Puertas & the Mellowtones, and Freightrain (Italy, Spain, U.S.A, and Canada... the last few weeks have felt like the united nations of blues). After travelling, performing and hanging with these great musicians, it was sad to say good bye!

Svalbard is a fascinating place, and the Dark Season Blues Festival was so good to us. They took great care of us, always making sure we had everything we needed. They even assigned each band a ‘host’ so you always knew who to turn to if you had a question (thanks Ken, you were the best!!).

We arrived at the Oslo airport around 6am. After that, we had to catch a train downtown carrying all of our stuff. This is tough under normal circumstances, but after no sleep it was even more difficult. We made it to our "home" for the week, a little air BnB apartment in downtown Oslo. And finally, sleep!

Thurs, Nov 3 - We had a few days off in Oslo before continuing on with the rest of the tour. What do a few nights off for the JW-Jones band look like? Well, we've been watching the TV show "How I Met Your Mother" as a band, while eating chips and chocolate in our PJ's. Pretty great.

It was also nice to take some time to wander around Oslo, and do normal things like laundry and grocery shopping. Freshly washed PJ's might be the best feeling in life.

Speaking of groceries, we bought stuff to make sandwiches, including a bottle of mustard. Mustard in Norway is weird. I mean, it's ok tasting, but it's nothing like mustard in Canada. I like discovering quirky little things that are different in other countries. But sometimes, I just want some normal mustard on my sandwich. So, dear Norway, what's the deal with your weird mustard?

Fri, Nov 4 - We performed at the Hamar Blues Club this evening, a gig which I've done once before, back in 2014. As soon as we walked in, I remembered that the last time was a great night, and that they treat musicians really well there.

Full disclosure - this pic is actually from the last time we played in Hamar. The photos I took tonight didn't really turn out.

Sat, Nov 5 - We were in Sweden tonight for one date. It was about a 4 hour drive, and when we arrived at the bed and breakfast that we would be staying at, the temperature had dropped, and it was absolutely freezing. Bed and breakfasts are nice because there's usually more of a personal touch than a hotel. One downside, though, is that there isn't always someone around to help.

We waited in the freezing cold because the front door was locked. Finally, another guest let us in, and we wandered around the hotel looking for our rooms. In places like this, there is usually a key left in the door of unoccupied rooms. We found our 3 rooms, just as the bed and breakfast owner arrived to confirm we were, in fact, in the right rooms.

Off to the gig in Kristinehamn, where we played in a crazy wooden building that resembled a barn. It took us ages to find it because the only way to get there is to drive on the sidewalk. At least that was the only way we could find, and after driving in circles for 20 minutes, we were all willing take the risk.

It was a really fun show after all. There were lots of people, and they danced and cheered all night, and told us how much they enjoyed the show.

Sun, Nov 6 - We drove all the way back to Oslo, and it was really another one of those killing time types of days. Computer time, phone calls home... TV and pyjamas...

Tomorrow morning we fly to Lucerne, Switzerland for the last stop on the tour. I've been to Switzerland once before, on my very first European tour with JW-Jones, but we arrived at around 8pm, and left at 7am the next morning. I'm pretty excited because this time we actually get to spend an entire week hanging out!

Mon, Nov 7 - Our flight to Zurich today was probably one of the most painful of my life. Swiss airlines has to be the worst for baggage. They gave us such a hard time, and we had to re-arrange all of our stuff into fewer bags than usual, making everything heavy and awkward.

We finally made it, and were picked up by the Lucerne Blues Festival. We drove about an hour to Lucerne, got checked into the hotel, and then went straight out for a big dinner to kick off the festival.