On Monday I crashed and burned. Crashed literally but burned only metaphorically as the rain would have put paid to any attempt at self- immolation. Or to continue this poor joke, I hit the wall
metaphorically but stopped sliding just short of it literally.
But before we get to that, I’ll have to back track a little. On the way to the onsen the night before, I met Juha, a ponderous Finn who is walking the pilgrimage. He is the first foreign pilgrim I’ve met and I’m the first foreigner he’s met since starting the pilgrimage. We ended up sharing the hut near the onsen and it was good to have company for a change. He’s a university student and had exhausted all the Japanese courses his university in Finland had to offer so came to study in Kyoto. He decided to do the pilgrimage to take up time during his vacation and practice his Japanese. He’s keeping a diary in Japanese and sketching interesting buildings and scenes he sees along the way.
In the morning, the wind was up but the forecast rain had not yet arrived. I had a vague plan to get to Matsuyama city by the end of the day but wasn’t sure as temples 44 and 45 seemed somehow out of the way and awkward to get to.
Luckily the wind was with me but riding along route 56 wasn’t a lot of fun. Some roads have nice wide shoulders for bikes or nice wide raised footpaths but for much of the day, route 56 had no shoulder at all, a lot of traffic and the footpath was really just a gutter but still better than riding on the road. Off route 56 the riding is almost alwaysuch better but it was difficult to avoid that road this day.
At temple 41 I saw my ‘walking’ friends again and we said our absolute goodbyes but then I got lost on the way to temple 42 and saw them again. After temple 43, it started raining properly and I just put my head down and rode, hoping to get to temples 44 and 45 before five o’clock and that I could somehow get to Matsuyama from there.
I was bustling through the town of Uchiko, in the gutter/footpath, nit far from the turn-off for temple 44 when my front wheel caught the lip of a metal gutter lid at an intersection and slid along it instead of going in the direction I wanted it to. The bike slid out from under me and next thing we were both sliding along the footpath toward a wall. I had just picked myself up when the loveliest lady came out of the bottle shop on the corner to ask if I was alright. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was and she insisted I drink some tea in the shop. She sat me down at her table in the middle if the shop and fed me endless tea and some quite tasty biscuits until I couldn’t take any more tea or mothering and headed back out into the rain. Even then she wrapped a towel around my neck so the rain wouldn’t get in and gave me a couple of oranges to take with me.
I was still hopeful of getting to temples 44 and 45 but they were some way off and I would have to keep up a good pace to get there by five. I passed one pilgrim hut and thought about stopping but when I got to the next rest hut, I’d had enough. It was only about half past two but I put on all my dry clothes, climbed into my sleeping bag and slept on and off until about six the next morning.
It turned out this was probably the best thing I could have done as it was pretty much uphill all the way from there on and although I had been warm, I might not have been at a higher altitude. As it was, I found myself often cycling past unmelted snow by the side of the road.
Temple 45 was a particularly nice one with a long walk up many steps to get there but the temple is built on top of a steep limestone mountain with one building built into the side of the mountain and a steep ladder up to a small cave looking over the site.
I had more climbing ahead of me but was also treated to my longest descent so far into Matsuyama. I could see the whole Dogo Plain spread out way down below me all the way down.
I didn’t spare any time at temples 46-51 as I was simply too keen to check in to the youth hostel. I’ve had a day off today and feel a million dollars probably thanks to the restorative qualities of the Dogo Onsen, the oldest bath house in Japan. I also visited Matsuyama Castle which is well worth a visit if you are ever in this neck of the woods.