Yes, the circle will be unbroken — thanks for asking. At 4:50 this afternoon I entered the temple gate at number 1, bringing me back to where I started, completing a 1,200- or 1,300km loop of Shikoku and a 47-day tour of 88 freakin’ temples.
I guess I’m in pretty good shape for an old bastard as my sum total of aches and pains after all that tarmac-pounding and mountain stomping is: zero.
In fact I was seldom tired for more than five minutes on the whole walk. Injuries: three missing toenails (keep your eye out), some degraded toe skin, aching knees when I woke yesterday — but they’re fine today.
I think I’m getting good at this stuff!
As Matt (a former henro along with his wife Nori) at Sen Guesthouse back in Matsuyama said when I was there, you’re just starting to get good at the whole thing and then you reach the end. A damned shame.
I have all my rituals and routines down, and have nights in my tiny tent/bedroom/ office/base camp down to a fine art. I rarely felt like I was pushing it to the limit, especially in the last couple of weeks. I took longer than I expected but a lot of newbie henro still react with shock when I tell them how “little” time I took.
You’ll notice this post is almost photo-free. I took a ton today but I’m low on computer battery juice, and in the process of getting pleasantly drunk. When I achieve that I aim to move on to unpleasantly drunk. Editing them will be increasingly problematic. But stay tuned.
I’ll be hitting you with a lot of pictures in the next few weeks (I just checked and I have 5,001 just from the pilgrimage, mostly unedited — a ton of those are multiples and I’ll be deleting like a demon, but I’ll sure be busy when I get home), plus some thoughts on the pilgrimage and an explanation of sorts of the mental stuff I’ve been dealing with.
Because, yeah, the mental shit was the hard part, especially in the first couple of weeks. And I had an epiphany the other day (it happens on long walks; I manage half a dozen per day) that it would be therapeutic to share the basics and get it out of my head.
I’ve been feeling much better, the weather’s been wonderful for walking, and this morning was unbelievably gorgeous. I woke up near a quiet road (see picture at top), was walking into sunrise at 6:00, and an hour later was leaving the first of my final seven temples.
I also encountered the 16th and 17th praying mantises of my journey, picking both up to let them crawl and “pray” on my hand, and scoot them to the relative safety of the road. It was a great day for cats too — probably a dozen, and I bought dinner for the last one.
But I had tears in my eyes off and on through the day. I don’t want it to end. Will miss the freedom and all those achievable goals, short- and long-term. The beauty and the joy of making art out of nature, chance and light.
Lately there’s the smell of burning rice stubble in the air, persimmons are hanging ripe and Halloweenishly orange on bare branches, and the sun is sweet and soothing. Been hiking in a beanie and down jacket (sometimes wear pants as well). Cosmos is blooming in dazzling pastel thickets everywhere you look.
Damn, gonna be tough to leave. But I’ve already decided I need to come back and do it in the “right’ order.
Every day for a week I’ve stopped for at least three or four great roadside conversations with henro just starting out. I’m the veteran, and a gyaku-uchi to boot.
Respect. I needed some of that.
I’ve also enjoyed lots of tips from fellow walkers for my next long ramble. Won’t be in Asia, but I’ll be back.
Alright, I’m on 29% battery and think I’ll split this michi-no-eki and stumble back to Temple #1 and set up the tent back in the parking lot — the pilgrim shelter is too close to awful Rt 12, as I found out to my detriment last time.
I can recharge there and the Lawson’s konbini is close if I need more refreshments.
I’ll be in touch. Next goal is a couple of days’ R & R back in Matsuyama. Thanks for reading, especially all the commenters. I hope some of you will be interested in the on-paper collection of temple shots I have vaguely planned after a shit-ton of work once home..
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Oh God, a local just drove up, and on learning I’d just done the henro, backwards, said, “Just a minute, please,”, went to his car, came back with a bag of bread rolls, and said “O-settai,” as he handed them to me, followed by a paper cup which he filled to the brim with Shikoku-made plum sake.
My heart chilled with apprehension. One sip and a warm friendly glow swept away the chill in a tsunami of contentment.
He also pointed out the nearby bus shelter, and informed me (local knowledge!) that the lights go out at 9:00, permitting sleep. Then he left me, sparing me the burden of painfully slow, drunken conversation.
That would have been all too circular — it’s how I spent the last night I was at the temple.
Suddenly that temple seems a world away. I’ve done enough freaking walking, I reckon. And seen my fair share of temples.
This is my 350th post. Wishing you the happiest of trails.
GOAT, Naruto City, Tokushima Prefecture, Japan
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote