18. Temple Down

17 Apr

Mini Garage, MatsuyamaSelf Preservation Society: Classic Mini Garage in Matsuyama

It was raining again, albeit only drizzle. What was more alarming was the sudden drop in temperature; it was absolutely baltic and more like a day in February than mid-April. Nevertheless, I pushed on northwards from JR Matsuyama station, passing a garage in Kinuyama selling old minis (they are incredibly popular cars here and I see them almost daily, far more frequently than back in Britain), calling in at two temples in the northern suburbs of Matsuyama, and then pointing my bike towards the coast to pass through grey seaside towns with rocky, volcanic sand beaches and the ever-present ugly concrete tetrapods.

I then cut inland on a flat route and reached Imabari after lunch, a town which had a clutch of temples spread throughout its limits. The signs were crap, which meant plenty of start-stop action and wasted time as I pulled out my broken GPS to constantly check the way. The rain grew heavier, making my cheapo calliper brakes increasingly ineffective.

The lady at one of the temples spoke English – not something I had encountered so far – and I had a good moan about the weather to her. She tried to soft-sell me accommodation at one of the temples, implying my destination for today of Saijo City was too far to reach, but whilst shukubo temple lodgings would certainly be a good experience, I had a reservation locked in – and I took her dismissal of reaching Saijo today as a challenge. I would get there.

The second-to-last temple on my list for today, Senyƫji, was up in the mountains, and with sodden feet and freezing thighs that refused to power The Revenge I gave my frustrations an outlet by shouting obscenities at the top of my voice which echoed pleasingly around the deserted mountain turns. After such a great start, with the pitiful weather of late this pilgrimage was rapidly becoming more of a chore than a pleasure, but it certainly made it no less of a challenge.

When I finally reached the temple via a long flight of steps it was enveloped in cloud. The ethereal atmosphere calmed and focused me, and I enjoyed the descent, despite the driving rain blinding me and completely soaking the trousers I had changed into to protect my frozen legs.

I had one more temple stop for the day, and thanks to the farting about in Imabari and the struggle of the ascent to the previous temple I reached it twenty minutes too late. The nokyocho office had shut up shop; it would be the first temple of the journey so far at which I wouldn’t be able to have my book signed. Whilst it was an annoyance, I didn’t have time to labour on the consequences for tomorrow, as it was now 5:30pm and I still had a long way to go around the bay to my destination of Saijo. I was possessed with a drive I can’t remember ever having before in the saddle, and I stepped out the remaining fifteen miles at top speed, racing the dark home with my mind swimming of thoughts of hot baths, cold beers and an air-conditioning unit on full blast heat to dry my sodden clothes. One of the core tenets of Buddhist is the acceptance of desires as being the cause of suffering; the Buddhist way is to eliminate desires through meditation, hence freeing yourself of suffering with the hope of achieving enlightenment. However, my desires for a hot bath and dry clothes were the very reason I was driving on and putting my suffering of the cold, heavy rain and aches to the back of my mind. I wouldn’t make a very good Buddhist.

I beat the dark and pulled into Saijo at dusk. The hotel – a Route Inn chain affair – was recently refurbished and a real treat. Although I didn’t feel particularly hungry, I chipped out onto the deadbeat streets to discover a Chinese restaurant in expectation of ordering the usual fare of noodles and dumplings, but instead was presented with a picture menu, the equivalent of gold dust to the hungry foreign traveller in Japan, so the most useful phrase of all taught to me by my Japanese friend from home before my first ever trip – “this, please!” – was rolled out and I ordered a massive set meal of sweet and sour chicken and seafood, rice, fried chicken and dumplings in soup. The oka-san looked at me cock-eyed when I ordered, as if to say “you’re going to eat all that?”, and I surprised even myself when I cleared the tray. That’s one of the beauties of cycle touring: you can eat as much food as you like and you still end up losing weight at the end of the trip.

Once again, things had worked out. I was further along the trail, I had a full stomach, was warm, dry and I was prepared for whatever the next day would throw at me.

54 miles


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