16. Into the Mountains

15 Apr

View of MatsuyamaWorth the effort: the sprawling city of Matsuyama viewed
from a mountain outside of the city

In my haste to reach civilisation in Matsuyama I had surreptitiously pedalled past a mountain range in which the next two temples on the route were nestled, which meant that today my job was to track back south eastwards to mop them up. It didn’t look all that far on the map, although the meandering route indicated that some uphill cycling was involved.

I navigated my way through Matsuyama’s suburbs which gradually rose upwards to become a humungous mountain climb, which went on, and on… and on. I hadn’t paid enough attention to the terrain on the map and was surprised to encounter such a challenge. I crawled upwards around the bends, stopping at regular intervals but never succumbing to getting off and pushing.

It took what seemed like all morning to get up to the top; luckily my GPS was busy recording the effort and the elevation profile shows the intensity of the climb – I gained some 600 metres in altitude over seven miles or so. It was worth it; the top uncovered a beautiful remote valley of fields and mountains with a scattering of lovely houses like some kind of Lost World, the image of which was shattered somewhat when I cycled past a massive hybrid DIY/Supermarket store. Not to miss a trick, I popped inside and purchased a large tray of sushi and ate it on a bench outside.

Getting to the 44th temple – a landmark destination, as it meant I was halfway through the trip in temple terms – took an age as well, with the road being a quiet but undulating path through the mountains. I finally arrived and snapped a pic of Temple 44, getting straight back on the bike to the next destination.

Temple 45 – Iwayaji – was just as much of a bugger to reach; my legs were really struggling, and the clock was ticking, as it was already late afternoon. When I finally pulled up at the temple entrance, I was crestfallen to discover that it was located some two hundred metres up from the road up via an endless flight of stone steps reaching up the mountain. Cursing, I ran up the steps past elderly bus/car pilgrims who appeared to coo to each other about my enthusiasm/haste to reach the temple, which seemed to be carved in part into the rockface (the mountain is in fact just as spiritual as the temple itself). I got my nokyocho signed and hurtled back down the steps to start the long journey home.

The light was fading as I tore back through the Valley of the Lost World back towards Matsuyama, and my back was searing with pain. Finally I reached the Misaka Pass and started the descent back down into the city. For seven miles I freewheeled down the mountain without pedalling once; when I finally levelled out, I was freezing from the cold wind whistling and my hands were completely numb. I picked my way back through the suburbs as dusk enveloped the city, utterly bypassing the two temples I had planned to mop up on the way back, as I was too exhausted and they were long closed anyway, not wanting to do anything but return home for a hot bath, a meal and a long sleep.

53 miles

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