I didn’t think I would be back at the Sakura So hotel in Tokushima so soon but, in case you were not already aware, it us far preferable to be warm, clean and under a roof than wet, cold and sleeping on a bench at a train station. But more on that later.
I fell asleep to the soothing sound of rain on the tent last night and woke up to a light mist, which was pleasant enough as I headed to a local convenience store for a slap-up feast of assorted packaged savouries including bread with sausage, ketchup and mayonnaise – always a winning combination. And then got to temple 11 where I prayed for a good passage to temple 12. This whole praying thing just doesn’t seem to be working out for me. As you’ll know if you’ve been checking my Twitter feed to the right there (if you are reading this on a computer but not an iPhone), I’ve prayed for my brakes to stop squeaking, to be wealthy and famous and for the Hurricanes to win a rugby game. It’s lucky I haven’t prayed to be handsome or I would probably have woken up as the Indonesian Tree Man. Luckily the passage to temple 12 prayer either worked or I’ve tricked the Buddha into thinking I wouldn’t enjoy riding lonely, steep mountain roads through the mist.
I was going to just follow the main road but looked at the map at just the right moment to spot I was nearby quieter mountain road that would eventually take me on to the main road. It ended up being a nice, steady climb with plenty of switchbacks through a well-forested mountain. With just a sprinkling of light rain. The quality of the road got worse and worse but the Trucker’s got nice wide tyres so it wasn’t a problem. I wouldn’t have liked to do it on 23mm tyres.
I got back on the main road and climbed a bit more before before descending to the bottom of the next climb. I’ll have to wait to get my cycling computer back to my computer to have a look at all the details of the climb but in cycling terms, I have no doubt that it would be hors categorie. It’s definitely the longest, steepest climb I’ve done. The gradient was 10-20+ per cent for several kilometres and I don’t think it got below six. I managed to find the Trucker’s lowest gear and for a while closely resembled the sort of portly middle-aged man you often see on a mountain bike, spinning the pedals furiously for very slight rewards in forward motion. The mountains around were steep and close but only vaguely visible through the mist and the few cars on the road all gave me encouraging toots after they had passed me. At least I reasoned if they wanted to abuse me it would have been before they passed me but the pilgrimage is very familiar to the locals and they all would have known where I was going. My only worry was that I was on the right path and hadn’t ridden past it because the last thing I wanted to do was come to the bottom of a mountain and discover I had to turn around and climb it again. Eventually I descended and then turned on to a signposted road for the temple and started my third long climb of the day.
I was exhausted by the time I reached the top and was genuinely worried about getting my jelly legs off the bike without falling over. The steady rain and mist gave the temple a lovely ethereal feel but to start with I was far more interested in getting a bowl of udon noodles into my stomach. The ride was only about 30km but had taken about two- and-a-half hours. I climbed 1345 metres today and most of it would have been on the way to this temple, which is the second-highest of the pilgrimage and sits at 800 metres above sea level.
I had put some extra jumpers on when I stopped but still cooled down very quickly and decided the thing to do would be to stay at this temple and be nice and warm and clean to descend in the morning. Unfortunately it turned out I couldn’t sleep there so I was doomed to descend. After an hour’s rest, I was strong again and my jumpers kept most of me warm but I still got an ice-cream headache from the chilly descent. And this was descending very slowly because the Trucker’s not too manoeuvrable through all the tight corners. And if I keep the brakes on, they stop squeaking.
I had spotted a campground on my map where I thought I might stay but realised too late that I’d gone past it so I continued to temple 13, which also had no accommodation and the two nearby places I checked with were also full. I didn’t really want to camp too rough because I was already wet and cold but my map didn’t show any nearby pilgrim huts, campgrounds or likely parks. The only option seemed to be to keep going to temples and end up slumming it at a train station.
I got to temple 14 just as the book-signing desk was closing and asked the chief stamper and calligrapher about accommodation and he wrote down an address and gave me directions which I didn’t really understand. Because of my poor success rate, I was loathe to offer a prayer for accommodation so I prayed for long life for Phillip Ruddock instead.
It was starting to look like a gloomy night when I noticed in my map that the pilgrimage route had brought me back to just 10km of Tokushima, where I had started from. I was certain the slightly-dodgy Sakura So wouldn’t be full so I got down in the drops and time- trialled all the way back to be greeted by the friendly proprietor. I’ve had a massive bowl of ramen and a bag of donuts, a shower and a bath, my clothes ate drying and all is well with the world. I’m going to hit send on this email then listen to some jazz and drift off to sleep and be all ready to go again tomorrow. The forecast is good for tomorrow, then a couple of days’ rain and then good again.