[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 43: Rust Bucket v2.0

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I slept really, really well. Part of the reason was because of my very comfortable bed. The other reason was because I was simply that tired. The last 3 days, I clocked 30-34km per day and climbed up a 900m mountain on one of those days. Despite the fact that I slept well, I still felt an all-encompassing exhaustion in my body and mind. Alana felt the same and the two of us were slow getting ready.

My plan today was to rent (for free!) one of the guesthouse bicycles for the day and make it as far as Temple 80, Kokubunji. The two temples after that went through mountain hiking trails. Besides, Kokubunji was already about 24km away and I would have to return to Zentsuji, too. Temple 80 would be the furthes I could manage.

Alana left first because she was going to walk and then camp a bit past Temple 80. She had a longer day ahead of her. We said our farewells, as we would not be seeing each other again on the henro trail, being so close to the end and with different deadlines. However, we hoped to meet again sometime in Canada.

I left around 8am, a bit later than I wanted but it took me a while to figure out the lock system on the bikes, which is directly on the back wheel, as well as put a bit more air into the tires. The last thing I needed was a flat tire 20+km from the guesthouse!

It was a rusty old thing with no gears, more meant for running short errands than cycling long distances. In honor of the rusty bike I rented three years ago on the Shimanami Kaido, I also nicknamed it Rust Bucket. Even still, it worked way better than the first Rust Bucket and that’s all that really mattered.

My first stop was Temple 76, Konzoji, which was practically next door. I made my usual rounds but didn’t stick around too long because two groups of tour bus henro were already there.

After, I stopped at a 7-11 to pick up something to eat for breakfast. Alana had pointed out yesterday that I barely ate anything, which was true. My stomach couldn’t tolerate large meals so I made a promise to myself to eat more frequently. Now that I was relying less on public transportation and was more active, I needed the calories pretty badly.

I ate and then made my way to Temple 77. It was a little more difficult to find my way on a bicycle. The walking route sometimes went off road where I could not cycle, so I had to find an alternate route on my map. At the same time, I couldn’t cycle and have my phone with GPS out at the same time what with all the traffic, pedestrians, and other cyclists to watch out for. It was certainly a new challenge for me.

At Temple 77, I did take my time there and took a break on a bench under some shade. A little souvenir shop just outside the temple was giving henro tea as osettai, which I took. It was another hot, sunny day and I needed to keep up with drinking fluids.

I cycled some more and started to feel the afternoon heat. I stopped again at a 7-11 on the way to buy another cold sports drink and some ice cream, both of which I consumed right away in a little patch of shade by the store. They helped marginally.

Temple 78 passed by uneventfully, as did Temple 79, although the latter was a bit confusing because it shared the same grounds as a shrine.

I was getting tired and my butt was starting to hurt where it sat on the hard bicycle seat, so I left the bike at the bicycle parking lot and took the train three stops over to Kokubu Station right near Temple 80, Kokubunji.

Kokubunji’s grounds were enormous and I took some time to explore them. I also came across one of the dirtiest toilets (well, more of an outhouse) I’ve ever encountered in Japan, although their sink had soap. Go figures.

I couldn’t believe that, with Temple 80 done, I only had 8 temples left to visit, plus Temple 1 (again) and Mt Koya.

With mixed feelings about that, I left the temple and found a nearby McDonald’s. at that point, it was about 2:30pm and I hadn’t had lunch yet. I ate but even McDonald’s was losing its charm. I was craving fresh fruits and vegetables and home cooked food.

When I finished and got back to Kokubu Dtation, I spotted a pair of foreign tourists trying to parse out the train timetable. They  were from New Zealand and had spent the last 6 days visiting some temples in Shikoku and were headed for Kotohira. I helped them figure out the trains and explained that I had been in Shikoku for a while now and had the trains pretty well figured out. They thanked me. It was a fair wait for the next train so we passed the time chatting.

When my train came, they thanked me again for my help and I wished them well for the rest of my trip.

I took the train back to Yasoba Station but by then, it was already past 4pm. I had written in the bike rental book that I would be back by around 4pm. Also, the sun was clearly going to start setting soon and I didn’t want to lose too much light; my bike was not fitted with any lights.

I looked up the fastest route back to the hostel and pedaled there as fast as I could. Unfortunately, Rust Bucket was a little too small for me so it was difficult to pedal efficiently. The other rental bike had been much too big for me, so I had opted for the slightly small one.

I got back to the hostel by 5:15 pm. When the owner asked me which temple I stopped at and I told her, she was surprised I had cycled that far. I didn’t tell her that I usually walk that far in a day (although I don’t usually have to backtrack). However, I did ask if I could do some laundry and she helped me work the washing machine.

I received a message from Alana. She was almost at a rest hut she could camp out in and had met an Australian cyclist henro who was doing the same thing. Alana, too, was tired out from the long walking days in the hot sun.

I also received a message from Naoko, who said she was going to pick me up for dinner at 6pm. I had forgotten it was Friday and we had promised to meet up for dinner. I showered quickly and, when the washing machine was done, I hung up my clothes to dry just as Naoko pulled up in her car.

Naoko took me to a Japanese BBQ restaurant. We ate a lot of meat and thank goodness Naoko was there because I would have had no idea what to order. The variety was amazing and everything we ordered was delicious (except for these weird cheese ball things).

Naoko said she had just started school againand was so far enjoying it. She said she had made it as far as Temple 48 and would try to continue the pilgrimage when she has time in the future.

At the end of the meal, Naoko insisted on paying for everything. I tried me best again to pay her back but she adamantly refuses and drove me back to the guesthouse.

We said our goodbyes and I turned in for the night.

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