Gordon: Temple 12 was unfinished business for Ruth. It is the first significant challenge on the Shikoku pilgrimage, and Ruth had been obsessively strategizing about it for weeks before we arrived in Japan. In the end, she and Geraldine took a taxi to it on our first encounter. Seven weeks of cycling later, Ruth is feeling much stronger and she wanted to cycle up.
The main pilgrimage route to Temple 12 is a forest trail that climbs a total of 1100 metres in three grades over 12 kms. The approach by road is more circuitous, with the result that Ruth had to cycle 35 kms to reach the Temple.
The starting gun was fired about 6:45 this morning, and Ruth and I set off on our respective routes. She had an early lead, as the first few kilometres were flat, and I had not yet visited Temple 11, which Ruth had done yesterday evening. From the back of Temple 11 I immediately started up a steadily climbing trail, while Ruth followed a river around to the base of her climb. She dropped her trailer at a michi-no-eki (a road rest stop), as I completed my first descent. Ruth hit the bottom of her 700 metre climb when I was engaged in my second climb. Sweat pouring off me, I completed the second grade and began the second descent. The final climb is the steepest, with the poorest trail. I was also starting to feel a bit fatigued. Ruth continued her upward grind, rounding the hairpin corners with what was no doubt a steely look in her eyes. I reached the final, paved traverse used by the bus tour groups, rounded the last corner, looking for that silly bike … but no, she wasn’t there. I walked triumphantly through the Temple gate, clearly the better Buddhist. It was another half hour before Ruth staggered through the same gate, drenched in sweat, but ecstatic none the less.
The pilgrimage season is essentially over on Shikoku now. I saw only one other walking pilgrim today, and a single group of bus tour pilgrims. There has only been one other guest at the last two places where we stayed. This makes it easy to get accommodation, but I understand that many of the places will soon be closed for the season. All in all, it is a pleasant time to be a henro, but I’m afraid it won’t last, as the rainy season will soon be upon us.