20. Backtrack

19 Apr

Spooky StatuesBearded Midget: Spooky statues up at Unpenji

I treated myself to a lie-in this morning, owing to my late arrival last night and also having woken up with a whole new array of pains from walking, which indicated that an entirely new set of muscles had been jarred into life. Once I was up and around I repaired my puncture in the stress-free comfort and abundant light of the morning; it was an easy job and I was on my way in no time. Once again I had to backtrack, as in my rush to reach Kanonji I had entirely bypassed a couple of temples to the south. I returned along the same route I had taken last night in the dark, this time at a slower pace, being more vigilant in watching for evil potholes, and eventually broke off the route to pedal up to Sankakuji, temple number 65 and some three hundred metres up in the mountains.

I traced the coastal Sanuki Highway back northwards – the third time I had cycled this stretch of road within twenty four hours – and made my way around to the second and final temple stop of the day, which at over nine hundred metres in altitude was the highest temple of the 88.

Thankfully there was a cable car to the top. On the map, the meandering route upwards looked like an absolute nightmare, and I doff my hat to any foot-powered pilgrim with the willpower to forego the easy option and take the road.

I had just missed a cable car and there was only one more journey to the top today, which meant I was limited to only fifteen minutes up at the temple before the car would come back down again. This would be more than enough for me to get my book stamped and to wander around to take some pictures, but the pilgrims with me would have to hurry their heart mantra.

The cable car took an age, as it carried on for nearly two miles. At the top the sprawling temple complex was packed with stone statues of monks, warriors and other strange creatures, giving it a maze-like quality not unlike Medusa’s labyrinth. I got my book signed, and ambled around – and felt mild panic rising in my chest when I realised I had gone and gotten myself lost; I didn’t know the way back to the cable car, my GPS was dead, and I hadn’t laid out a ball of twine. If I missed the last car I would be in the shit.

I regained composure and finally rediscovered my brain, which told me the cable car would be on the lower side of the mountain, and that I should look for two gurt big wheels and sticking up which would be a dead giveaway. Through a gap in the trees I saw the cable car terminal, and I made a break for it via a lawn and a couple of flowerbeds.

Although I’d left this morning from Kagawa prefecture, and cycled back into Ehime and boarded the cable car, the mountain itself was in Tokushima, the area in which I had started my trip. Being back in Tokushima, albeit fleetingly, underscored how close I was to the end of my journey. The hard work was behind me. I was going to make it.

If I didn’t get lost on the way.

36 miles

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