In Nirvana, there is a tailwind (almost) all the way and a funicular when the road gets too steep. If there’s a time limit, you make it five minutes before the cut off, not five minutes after. And even once you’ve left Nirvana, you get a guy on a road bike to lead you out for 50km in heavy traffic.

I believe my last post was just after visiting Unpenji, temple 66, the highest of all the temples above sea level. I spent the rest of the day racing around temples and to be honest I cannot remember a single one of them. I don’t think I got my camera out much either so they may well be lost to my memory forever. After this many temples, they do all blend together a bit anyway. However, I think I’m now qualified to make a general rule – the more difficult a temple is to get to, the more likely it is to be worth visiting.

My only outstanding memories from that day are that I had a tailwind for most of it and all sorts of trouble finding a place to sleep. I managed to get as far as temple 77 and had time to press on to temple 78 but spotted my map showing a sleeping hut between the two. I have an English language walkers’ map book but should have bought a Japanese one, which has more detail. My map book doesn’t show all the huts or many of the camping grounds, which you’d think would be a priority for walkers. It differentiates between rest huts and sleeping huts and I’ve been sleeping in rest huts a lot so when I saw a symbol for a sleeping hut, I thought my problems were solved. Camping was going to be difficult because it was a fairly urban area. I rode around the place marked on the map but couldn’t find anything, asked a couple of people who lived nearby and looked a little with them but couldn’t find anything and eventually passed a couple of benches by the side of a busy road with a pilgrim symbol next to them.

You can’t get much sleep on a bench on the main street if town, so I decided to buy my way out of trouble and stay at a business hotel. There was a billboard on the street for one nearby but when I asked, they had no reservations. My maps showed another hotel further up the road but when I got there, I found it was derelict. I couldn’t find another one in the area so rode back toward the train station where I saw an ad for another one, rode there and learnt it was full, too. My map shows a few Japanese-style pensions – ryokan and minshuku – but I’m a bit wary of trying them in case the price turns out to be sky- high. In the end, I resolved to go and sleep in a park by the river. It was a warm night after all, so I rode back in the other direction again, had a bento dinner at a konbini and rode down to the river to scout for a location. Luckily for me, Kazuko rang and while talking to me, looked up a ryokan on the Internet and called them and booked me in. It felt a little like cheating but it was wonderful to have a shower and comfy futon to sleep in.

The next day, which I hoped to be the last of the pilgrimage, I was up bright and early and got to temple 78 not long after the signing desk opened. The wind had kicked up in the night but it looked like it was going to be mostly behind me all day. There was also quite a fog around which hid mountains and things in the distance.

At temple 79, a bloke saw me and wandered over to chat for a bit before noticing his wife was getting ready to start the next lot of prayers without him so he had to hurry back or he was going to be in trouble. I got the feeling from her expression that he’d been doing this a lot.

Looking at the map, I decided to do temples 81 and 82 next. They were on mountains but I could visit them then ride back the way I came and use the tailwind to get to temple 80, which had more direct access to temple 83 than temple 82 did. Just as an aside, these temples all have names but I can never remember them.

The tailwind was so strong that it didn’t feel like climbing for a lot of the way to temple 81. The road continued mainly up to 82 so when I turned around I was mainly descending into the wind, which cancelled each other out. As I was coming off the mountain, I saw a guy in full keirin kit on a keirin bike heading up the mountain on a training ride.

After temples 80 and 83, I headed to Takamatsu for temple 84. Shikoku is famous for its udon noodles but whenever I’ve had time to go and look, I haven’t been able to find a nice-looking udon restaurant. Now that I was under time pressure, there seemed to be one on every corner. I had to make do with a konbini bento and keep going.

Temple 84 is on Mt Yashima just north of Takamatsu and my map showed the road to the top was a tollway that only cars are allowed on so I had to ride up another road then walk the last kilometre and a half. The road eventually turned from asphalt into concrete slabs with a more than 20 per cent gradient so I had to push the bike the last part anyway. I speed walked to the top and got back to my bike just after 2pm giving me three hours to get to the rest of the temples.

Temple 85 was up the next mountain along and just as the road to it started looking like the one to 84 and really, really steep, I came to a funicular station and decided to take that to the top. They told me I could take my bike on the funicular so I didn’t even have to take it back down again. Riding down from that temple, the road was incredibly steep and I was pretty glad I hadn’t climbed it.

At temple 86, I thought I was making pretty good time and would be able to finish but on the way to 87, I saw mountains in the distance and realised temple 88 had to be somewhere among them. In the end, I had one hour to do about 16km out there. I smashed the Trucker up all the climbs and for most of the way, my head was bright red and on the point of explosion. I spent a lot of the time calculating distance to go and what average speed I’d need to keep up to get there and often thought I wasn’t going to make it. After the turn-off for the temple, I was considering flagging down a passing car and trying to get a lift. With 2km and 15 minutes left, I realised I was probably going to get there and I made it with 5 minutes to spare before collapsing in a ruined heap on some steps but triumphant with a fully signed book.

I hadn’t realised it was so far back to Tokushima and the 50km ride took me up to just under 160km for the day. At Tokushima, I met up with a bloke called Damian who I had met over the Internet and who, through a wonderful coincidence, had just arrived to ride his Surly Long Haul Trucker around the pilgrimage route. I finally had udon for dinner and the next day we rode out to temple one for him to start and for me to complete the circle.

After saying goodbye to Damian and wishing him all the best for the trip, I rode out to the ferry terminal where I wrote up mt diary while waiting for the ferry to leave, then slept all the way across to Wakayama.

The road from Wakayama to Kumi’s place in Sakai was full of traffic, especially so as it was the Monday of a long weekend and people were returning home from a weekend away. After climbing over the hills between Wakayama and Osaka prefectures, traffic was bumper to bumper and not moving much at all. I was able to glide past the traffic next to the gutter but as it started moving again, I moved on to the pavement. Busy, narrow roads make me a bit nervous so I preferred the footpath although it’s not a particularly smooth ride. After a while, a guy on a road bike went past so I decided to get back on the road and let him show me the way. After keeping up with him for 20 minutes or so, I decided I’d better make conversation so at the lights I asked him if this was the right way to Sakai. He said it was and that he lived in Sakai so we rode the next 50km together with leading the way. He was at the end of a 200km training ride but I still had to work pretty hard to keep up with him. It was fun to have someone to ride with and I wouldn’t have enjoyed being on such a busy road by myself but thanks to to him I got to Sakai on pretty good time. I met up with Kumi – the cycling grandmother – and went back to her place.

Kumi runs an old-fashioned style Japanese bathhouse which her father built. When we got back, she stoked up the wood furnace and I had the men’s section of the bath to myself. It was wonderful to be clean and relaxed again. Although I arrived a day earlier than Kumi had expected, she and her daughter Mami whipped up a massive and delicious celebratory feast for me in honour of completing the pilgrimage.

After a good night’s sleep and big breakfast, Kumi cycled with me to the edge of Sakai city, we said goodbye and I crossed the river to Osaka where I met Richard on the middle of town and I rode back to his house and he caught the train. The fridge is empty so I’ve had to give him a six-pack so I can drink his beer but he does seem to have a lot of toilet paper and I’m not sure what to do with it all, especially as his toilet has a bidet.

It’s afternoon nap time and I think I’m going to spend all day tomorrow sleeping. My odometer says I’ve done 1617km since leaving here two and a half weeks ago.

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