I spent most of today cycling with Kumi, who stayed at the same accommodation last night. She has cycled from her home in Osaka to Kochi in the south of Shikoku to visit her new-born grandson. He seems a nice chap but, like all babies, cried as soon as he was put in my arms. Early in our ride, Kumi invited me to stay with her daughter and son-in-law and, it seems, notified them later. Luckily they are very nice people and don’t mind entertaining a tired foreigner who hardly speaks their language. Maybe I’m the least of their troubles with four energetic young children in the house.
When Kumi and I set off this morning, the wind was absolutely howling. Blowing the rocks off the moll, as Captain Bill used to say. The sea was covered in white caps and my weathered nautical eye told me it was 25-30 knots with gusts up to 40. Unfortunately for us, we were riding into it all day. On the plus side, it didn’t rain, although there was a quite painful 5-minute hailstorm and it was nice to have company for a change.
The first temple was by the main road and easy to get to although there were a lot of steps up to the top. On the way down we stopped to talk with an old lady who was slowly making her way up. This was the 22nd time she has done the pilgrimage and she does it twice every year. The second temple was up a hill but not too bad a climb and at the top had a great view over the bay below.
Riding into the wind on the main road, we made slow and steady progress, sometimes only doing about 10kmh and often being blown around the road. The third temple of the day, the one in the title, is one of several that are famous for being difficult to get to so after lunch, Kumi continued to Kochi while I went to temple 27. It was only about three and a half kilometres off the main road and didn’t start out too badly but soon became extremely steep with short, sharp switchbacks. I was trying to pedal slowly so as not to wear myself out but it seems once the road hits a certain gradient, somewhere above 20 per cent, the pull of gravity is so strong that it’s impossible to pedal slowly. I had to get off and push a couple of times but got there in the end. On the way up I got a few surprised looks from a group of young monks who were apparently travelling the pilgrimage in hired minibuses. You’d think if anyone has the time and commitment to walk the whole thing, it would be monks. When I’m in charge, I’ll make it a compulsory part of the training. At the top, I met up with a couple that I had seen at several temples two days ago and it interesting to reflect how austere the man had seemed the first time I had seen him and how he was now enthusiastically chatting about my cycling up mountains and how going down was definitely the more fun part.
In fact, going down isn’t that much fun because the Trucker’s weak point is its brakes and don’t really have the strength to bring me and a fully-loaded bike to a quick stop down those Lind of gradients so I cycled the whole way down with the brakes on hard and still only just managing to get round some of the steeper, sharper corners. I’ll try to find a bike shop tomorrow and get new brake pads.
Cycling toward Kochi, I caught up with Kumi and we rode the last 30km together. The wind finally dropped out and we found a really nice cycling path along the coast. Kumi and her husband run a Japanese bath- house in Sakai city in south Osaka (where the Shimano factory is) but because it has to stay open, can’t take holidays together. Shell catch the train home from her daughter’s place and her husband will drive out to visit later and bring her bike back with him in the car.
My hosts for the night, the Tanaka family, have been wonderful, cooking up a feast of sukiyaki and tempura, running a nice hot bath fore and insisting on doing my washing.
My body is telling me it’s time to take it easy and refuel so tomorrow I won’t get to many temples and will try to eat and drink a lot (it’s a tough life) and because there are several temples around Kochi, I’ll be able to find somewhere in town to stay for the night.