8. Coasting Along

7 Apr

Easy rider: the lovely flat coastal route down to Cape Muroto

I was delighted to have reached Shikoku’s coast, as it meant I could take the flat, shore-hugging coastal route all the way along to Cape Muroto.   My fitness had definitely improved in a matter of just a few days on the bike, and so waking up to a day of glorious sunshine and the prospect of easy cycling, for the first time I decided not to commit to booking accommodation for the evening, instead looking to see how far I could push on through Shikoku.  The feeling of absolute freedom was wonderful as I saddled up with the sun on my face and ate up huge chunks of Route 55, passing the occasional pilgrim walking this beautiful but solitary stretch utterly devoid of temples.

Chain convenience stores were a rare sight as I flitted between weatherbeaten fishing villages seemingly populated only by people over the age of eighty, pottering around in the gardens or streets and bent double from years in the paddy fields.  Out in this remote corner of the country of farmers and fishermen it was almost possible to picture how life had been in Japan before it was opened up to trade by the Yanks, after which it went from an isolationist nation to a modernised, leading world power in an astonishing timespan of only fifty years.

I made superb time, tearing along in top gear and stopping only to fuel up or to admire the odd sight such as this Shintō shrine.  I effortlessly carved out the 30 miles or so down to Cape Muroto by mid-morning to pay my tributes to the statue of Kōbō-Daishi, the hugely influential Japanese monk and first ever “88 Temples” pilgrim. Legend states that a pilgrim never travels alone, for Kōbō-Daishi always travels with him. Whilst that’s comforting to hear, you think he could share a little bit of the cycling now and again.

The Cape itself was home to another temple, Hotsumisakiji, number twenty-four of the eighty-eight, and was located up a steep incline that had me puffing and swearing, but the vista out over the coast was worthwhile, as were the views directly southwards over the petrifying blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Exhausted, I took lunch sat outside a local convenience store in the town of Muroto until I felt my strength return.  I continued on to the temple located nearby before stopping at another temple in the next town and hitting the coast once more as the wide expanse of the Tosa Bay opened out in front of me, and I ate up the distance once more as birds of prey wheeled overhead, scouring the forested coastline for prey.

By this time I had set my sights on the city of Aki as this evening’s destination.  Whilst researching stops I had earmarked it as a possible, as it had a large business hotel slapbang in the centre by the railway station.  But first I needed to tackle one more temple – and it lay away from the coast at about four hundred metres above sea level.

The route upward was pleasant only in terms of sights, and it damn near killed me.  A couple who’d come down from the temple in their car and had just pulled into a rest stop wound down a window and urged me on enthusiastically, but soon I was out of the saddle and cursing the decision of temple founders to place these things so damn high up.

I finally pulled into Aki City at dusk, and quickly spotted the huge business hotel that loomed many storeys over the rest of the buildings.  It was a veritable entertainment hub, with a huge pachinko parlour (a Japanese gaming addiction, similar to pinball) on the ground floor and a restaurant at the top, to which I headed after an easy English-speaking check-in to mistakenly order the largest beer I have ever seen outside of Germany – it wasn’t far off a litre – and a so-so Japanese meal as a reward for my long day traversing Shikoku’s southern coast.

65 miles

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