[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 2 (March 4, 2017): Pain…Already??

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I woke up early to make it to breakfast by 6:30am. I was served a traditional Japanese breakfast, which included stewed and pickled vegetables, scrambled egg with flavoured nori (the roasted seaweed you can find wrapping sushi rolls), miso soup, and of course, rice. I ate most of it, paid for my stay, bid the inn owners goodbye, and then left.

I had considered calling for a taxi to bring me back to Anraku-Ji, but I was feeling good and made the walk there to find the pilgrim route again. Once I found my way, I made my way to Temple #7, Juuraku-Ji, which was fairly close and didn’t take me long to find.

Once there, I found my Italian friend, Jack. We spoke briefly before parting ways again. I stopped for a quick rest and to buy some water from the vending machines there (vending machines are truly everywhere in Japan). After the walk, I had noticed that my left knee and right hip were really bothering me. My left knee had felt uncomfortable as early as the plane ride here and walking had only made it worse. I suspected the right hip pain was from either sleeping uncomfortably or from my backpack…or both. I took some Tylenol I had with me and went on my way. This time, I left the hip belt on my backpack undone to give my hips a break.

Temple #8, Kumadan-Ji, was a little further away but the walk there still wasn’t bad. The sun had come out and the cold morning air had dissipated, so I had to take off a layer due to the sweat. At Kumadan-Ji, I stopped for another quick rest and to drink some water. I didn’t want to make the same mistake as yesterday and not stay hydrated. Jack arrived not too much longer after. I was also starting to recognize some of the other Japanese pilgrims who all seemed to be going at around the same pace. I would see them frequently throughout the day.

Once I felt rested, I made my way to Temple #9, Horin-Ji. Horin-Ji turned out to be my favourite temple so far. It had some expansive grounds and they had chanting playing from a set of speakers, which just added to the peaceful atmosphere. I climbed up a set of stairs to the main temple, did my usual process, and did the same at a smaller temple hall up another small set of stairs.

With that done and my book stamped, I made my way to Temple #10, Kirihata-Ji, which sits atop a hill. The climb up to Kirihata-Ji ended up being really difficult for me. Between the steep road to get there and then several sets of stairs, the pain in my left knee was particularly noticeable. My right knee was also beginning to join it in pain. Still, I did make it to the main hall and prayed.

A bunch of pilgrims were also there – a tour group, it seemed. I spotted Tommy chatting with another pilgrim.  Jack had also made it to the temple around the same time as I did. He encouraged me to rest a bit since I was getting tired. He said he had done the Camino de Santiago, so he had experience with this sort of thing. I knew the next temple was 9.7km away, so I took the time to rest on a bench and bought some juice from a vending machine, downing it quickly. It was hot with the sun beating down on me, so I also took off my last outer layer and wore only my T-shirt and white vest.

Once the crowds thinned, I made my way back down the stairs. Each step was agony on my knees. I began to suspect that my knee problems were a ligament or tendon problem rather than muscular one. Sadly, my knees and legs were not used to going up and down hills with a heavy backpack on. In hindsight, I chose a bad time to do the pilgrimage. Back home, it had been winter for a few months, so not exactly an ideal time to be practicing 20km walks. In the summer, I do a lot more walking and even a bit of hiking. I should have done the pilgrimage in the fall, after getting some practice and training in.

But there was nothing I could do about it. I had chosen my time and had to stick with it.

The good news was that, once I was down the hill, it was flat walking from there.  Even still, my sore knees affected my pace but if I kept a steady pace, the pain wasn’t too bad…unless I was going down stairs, which were thankfully few and far between. My walk took me through increasingly rural territory and past many expansive farm fields. I saw one pilgrim further ahead, but he eventually outpaced me. The sun was brutal and the flat fields offered no shade. I was happy it was still early spring with a cold breeze, otherwise I might have passed out from heat stroke, being unused to warm weather at this time of year.

I eventually crossed the Yoshinogawa River and found myself in another town – appropriately named Yoshinogawa – rather than in-between fields.  I stopped by the river to sit and have some more water, as well as place a bandaid on the back of my heel, which was chafing. I noticed a small blister on the side of the ball of my foot, but it wasn’t bothersome, so I left it.  I pondered the irony. Most accounts I’ve read of the pilgrimage talk about the brutal blisters and feet pain. Truthfully, my feet were doing pretty good and we were used to walking in the same set of shoes for 12+ hours a day. But for me, it was my knees that were the problem! Figures.

After about 10 minutes of rest, I moved on further into town with pilgrim signs indicating another 4km to go until I reached Fujiidera. It was still only about 1:30 so I had plenty of time. I stopped about halfway at some vending machines, where I bought a sports drink and sat on the curb to enjoy it. I actually felt quite a bit better after I finished it. However, my knees were bothering me more again, and it was made worse when the approach to Fujjidera took me through a set of rocky steps. I sat on a conveniently placed bench to rest yet again.

A few minutes into my break,a group of pilgrims came by, including a few familiar faces whom I didn’t know their names and Jack.  They remarked that I was fast, but I told them I hadn’t stopped for lunch (while they had). Jack encouraged me again to relax and rest.

A few minutes after they passed through, I, too, picked myself back up and made it the past the next 100m or so to Fujiidera proper. It was a small temple right next to the mountain. At the back of the temple one could see the already steep trail that led to the notoriously difficult Shosan-Ji, Temple 12. 

We all sat and chatted a bit – at least, as best we could given the language barriers.  Jack was told about a rest hut about 2 hours up the mountain that he could sleep at, which he decided to give a shot. It didn’t sound comfortable, especially since temperatures drop overnight and the rest hut was part of the way up the mountain. Hopefully, he made it there ok and kept warm! And despite his experience with backpacking, he, too, said his backpack was too heavy and would be ditching it after tonight, carrying only a day bag. As everyone talked about seeing each other tomorrow during the difficult climb up to Temple 12, I admitted that I would be staying behind another night due to the pain. I wished everyone well and to stay safe.

I myself had a room booked at a ryokan near the train station. Since it was quite a distance, I asked the temple staff if there was a taxi I could call. Another pilgrim heard me and offered to drive me as osettai. I learned that he was driving to all the temples and was hoping to get to Temple 10 before 5pm, when temples close for the day.

He dropped me off and I thanked him profusely. I checked into the ryokan and asked if I could stay one extra night, to which they said it was ok, thank goodness! I settled in, rested a little, then took a bath. A soak in their bath felt great on my muscles and joints! Dinner was delicious, and I talked to the ryokan staff member who spoke pretty good English. He told me about a bus I could take from Tokushima to Shosan-Ji. It still required a 5km hike, but at least I wouldn’t have to climb a whole mountain.

As I turned in for the night, I pondered what to do from here on out. Clearly I was unfit to walk the entire pilgrimage, so perhaps I’d have to rely on public transportation for stretches of it. I turned in early due to fatigue and slept on these thoughts…

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