The cold and a couple of very vivid dreams woke me up several times during the night. When I finally got up at 06:25 and looked out, I could see a clear blue sky and I was already looking forward to the day ahead.
Nico was still hidden under a pile of blankets but the other pilgrim got up and started heating some water which he used to prepare the pot noodle I had given him yesterday. I still had no idea what his story was but if he really was homeless but I hoped he was going to be fine. I shook Nico awake to tell him that I was probably going to stick to Route 55 and stop in Shishikui, and with a few parting words for the other pilgrim I headed for the Lawson.
I wanted my coffee and something to eat but the Lawson was not doing any coffee so I got myself a snack and headed for Yakuoji (#23). I had already gone through my prayer rituals yesterday but I headed back to the main hall and prayed again in front of the main hall. It was a beautiful bright sunny morning and after taking a few more photographs I headed for the Sunkust convenience store opposite Hiwasa michi-no-eki in the hope of finding myself a coffee there.
With a coffee and enough snacks for the day ahead I sat outside the convenience for nearly 30 minutes enjoying the early morning sunshine. Hiwasa michi-no-eki opposite actually looked like a great place to stay. There was a covered hut and a few other places where I could have probably safely pitched a tent under cover. Plus the hot spa I had visited yesterday was very close by too. The last time I had passed this way everything had been shrouded in darkness .
It had turned into a gloriously sunny morning as I finally set of from the Sunkust pondering which of the 2 possible routes I should take. There was the familiar Route 55 which meant plenty of traffic and plenty of tunnels or there was the Minami Skyline route which I had only read about on someone's online blog. When I got to the spot where I needed to make a clear decision I stopped and dithered.
I asked a local lady if the Minami Skyline was as nice as I had read it was and she told me it was nice but 5km longer than Route 55. The emphasis seemed to be on the extra 5km so I thanked her and dithered a little bit longer. Knowing how pretty the coast line was and with a plan to camp at Shishikui michi-no-eki the decision was easy. An extra 5km on a beautiful sunny day along the coast was definitely the best choice so after all the dithering I finally headed in the direction of the Minami Skyline.
After a gentle start the road started to climb higher and higher and from the higher elevation I started to get wonderful views of both the sea and the sky. After passing through a short tunnel, the views just got bigger and better. Ahead of me I could make out the shape of some palm trees and the outline of a rest hut silhouetted against a clear blue sky. When I arrived at the spot about 15 minutes later I discovered it was the first of four designated observation points along the Minami Skyline.
The sea view was absolutely fantastic so I decided to remove my boots and ended up spending far more time relaxing than I had intended. I wasn't sure if it was allowed but it got me thinking that on a clear warm night, it would be a great place to camp out. There was a single vending machine and excellent washroom facilities close by. After finally dragging myself away I continued on stopping again close to what I thought was probably the second observation point. This time I stayed close to the road opposite a large house or what looked like some sort of paid lodging.
There had been few if any buildings along the route up to this point and I had only seen one or two passing cars. As I stood there I was surprised to see a runner coming up towards me. He turned into the large car park opposite, ran around the perimeter and was heading down again when I called out to him to ask him if I was at Observation No. 2. He had not gone very far, so he stopped and came running back up to me.
He looked like a serious runner and I had probably put a little dent in his time but he answered my question by pointing in the direction of the car park. Being a keen runner myself I would have loved to have found out how often he ran along the Minami Skyline and to tell him that I had run the Mt. Fuji Summit Race a few years earlier. However, not wanting to delay him too much, I decided to give him a photograph, which I slotted into the small runners pack he was wearing. With that he was of again and I continued on and stopped for the final time at Observation No. 4.
Of the four, Observation No. 4 turned out to be the best one of the lot. The view at Observation No. 1 was fantastic but the one here was even better. There was no vending machine and no washroom facilities but it looked like some workmen nearby may well have been preparing the foundations for one. The views were really stunning and there was much more space to walk about near the rest hut. I again set my pack down, took my boots of and placed them on the small fence in front to give them some sun too.
I was joined by a middle aged couple who arrived by car and were also enjoying the views. When I looked over in their direction the man greeted me so I walked over to talk to them. They easily figured out that I was doing ohenro but they were quite surprised to learn that I had lived in Kagawa. The woman was originally from Kagawa but they explained that they now lived in Malaysia and were back in Shikoku for a visit. I decided to give them each a photograph and with that done that I got myself ready and continued on my way.
The weather had remained really great and around 1 o'clock I came of the Minami Skyline route and saw signs for Route 55. I asked an elderly lady for clearer directions, gave her a photograph and continued on towards Mugi Station. I was thinking about something to eat and as I approached a tunnel I completely failed to notice that on the other side of the road was another brand new looking ohenro hut.
Had it not been for someone calling out to me I would have walked past but the person who had called out to me was one of the 3 volunteers manning the hut. While one served me hot tea, another was asking me the usual questions I was often asked. It was great looking hut but it was only for resting purposes and it was the first one that I had come across that had been manned by volunteers. I discovered that it had only recently been completed and the volunteers were taking the details of people passing through. After a second cup of tea and a few more snacks, I gave them a photograph, thanked them for their hospitality and then continued through the tunnel to the Lawson on the other side.
The Lawson was planned to to my extended lunch and rest stop before I completed the final 17km to Shishikui where I planned to camp at the Shishikui michi-no-eki. This particular Lawson served freshly prepared udon so I got some udon and enjoyed it in the shop. After finishing I got myself cleaned up I sat and just watched people come and go.
It was coming up to 2 o'clock and although another 17km was not a huge distance, after the leisurely 22km I had already walked I needed to give myself a bit of a push myself to get myself ready to head on again. Before leaving the shop I went over to give a photograph to the woman who had served me the udon.
My next stop was going to be Saba Daishi. I had stopped briefly at Saba Daishi during my first pilgrimage. It was one of the bangai temples and I just wanted to stop there in order to pray. After Saba Daishi, I planned to stop at Cafe Fukunaga although I had no idea it it would be still there or not. The reason for wanting to stop there was more than just nostalgia. During my first pilgimage I had left the Hashimoto Bus Zenkonyado at 03:30 in the morning and walked along Route 55. I remembered coming across Saba Daishi and after that Cafe Fukunaga. The woman who ran it had been incredibly kind to me that morning and I had spent a whole hour sitting at the counter chatting to her. Today I didn't really have time to stay but I just wanted to express my thanks by giving her some of my photographs.
I immediately recognized Cafe Fukunaga and as I headed towards the front door, she came out to greet me and welcomed me inside. I wasn't planning to stop so I quickly told her about my previous visit almost 4 years earlier and that I wanted to give her some photographs. There were two she particularly liked so I let her have both of them. I then asked her to pose with the photographs so I could photograph her. I had photographed her the first time too and I was thinking it would be nice to send her a copy of both when I got back. As I as about to head away again she offered me coffee as osettai but having already had plenty of coffee during the day I suggested water would be enough.
Inside there were 3 elderly guests singing karaoke but other than the place was just as I remembered it. Whatever it was, it was good to be sitting there again. As I sat there my mind took me back to that morning when I had last been at the cafe. As I thought about it I was overcome with a feeling of sadness and for reasons I couldn't explain, tears welled up in my eyes which I quickly wiped away hoping no one had noticed.
I was served a glass of water, a single strawberry and small toasted bun. During that first pilgrimage the owner had prepared a simple breakfast which was not on the menu. Looking at her now she looked to have aged a little but I could sense the same kindness she had shown that day. She asked if I would like to sing a song. I didn't, but I would have liked her to sung a song that I really liked. It was a song from a hit TV drama series Amachan that I had found absolutely addictive. However, asking her to sing it would have taken up more time and I still had to walk another 6km before it got dark. Before I left the shop I got her to write her address in my notebook so I could send her some more photographs when I returned home.
Feeling composed again, I thanked her for the osettai and told her it had been good that I had been able to meet her again. She came out to say goodbye and with that I picked up the pace and arrived in Shishikui just as it was getting dark. I had been picking up extra supplies all day in anticipation of staying out and I stopped again at a 7 Eleven to pick up a few more. Having got what I wanted I headed for the check out and found myself behind a mother and her young daughter. There were two check outs but a queue had built up and some of the customers were getting a little restless at what seemed like a long wait.
The mother ushered me to go ahead of her when I joined the queue but I told her it was fine. Under non-ohenro conditions I may also have shared in the general restlessness of my fellow customers but I waited patiently. My patience seemed to yield it's own reward because after exiting the shop the mother approached and gave me a hot tea which I had seen her buy in the store. The tea was osettai for me she said and I immediately pulled out my photographs and told her to select one. I had not visited any temples today but I had ended up giving away a lot of photographs and for situations like this one, they had again been a perfect way to respond.
I found the michi-no-eki which was tiny in comparison to the one in Hiwasa. I also wondered whether there really could be an onsen there at all and after checking with someone inside I discovered the onsen was actually at the hotel next door. I walked over and spent almost an hour in the hot waters easing away the aches and pains in my feet and shoulders. Sitting in a hot spa definitely felt great after a long day of walking and today had been the longest day of the pilgrimage so far. I had covered 39km.
The onsen closed at 11 o'clock so I hoped I could stay for as long as possible and then head out and set up my tent at the michi-no-eki. I had access to the wifi so I checked my email and then continued to type up my notes for the day. The hotel staff were coming up and down the stairs and I was conscious I was not a hotel guest so I asked if it would be OK to stay a little while longer. I was told lights would be going out at 11 o'clock and up until that time it was fine.
A mother and her son who had just finished using the hot spa commented on the size of backpack and also my ohenro gear. The usual kind of friendly conversation ensued at the end of which I gave the mother a photograph. A little while later a man approached, sat himself down at my table and asked me where I was going to stay. He suggested I could come and sleep at his home. Accepting ossettai is part of ohenro tradition but I didn't really feel comfortable with returning 20km back in the direction I had come and even though he promised to return me back to Shishikui the following morning I very kindly declined his offer and offered him one of my photographs instead.
I finally left the hotel at around 22:45 and instead of heading to the michi-no-eki as I had planned I headed further on and decided to see how suitable the hut was. When I got to the rest hut which was not too far from the hotel I found it was situated well away from the main road, was square in shape and raised up on stilts with steps leading up inside. Best of all was that it was relatively enclosed and when I looked inside I saw that a tent had already been set up. At first I thought it might be Nico so I called out quietly and asked if it was Nico. No answer came so I got to work quickly and quietly setting up my own tent.
I managed to set up my tent between the bench and the fixed table in the middle, just like the tent on the other side. Getting in and out of the tent was a little tricky but I didn't plan on getting in and out too many times. With the mat inflated and the sleeping bag laid out I put all my things inside the tent and squeezed myself inside and got into my sleeping bag. Once inside it felt reasonably comfortable and with the time now past midnight I decided to leave the remainder of my note taking to the following day.
As I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the sound of the waves breaking on the shore on the other side of the road and thinking about the day, all I could think was that it had been an absolutely fantastic day. It was easily one of the best days, if not the the best day of the whole journey so far. I had felt ecstatic after arriving at Shosanji (#12) but today it was the incredible calmness I felt walking alone on the Minami Skyline that I was sure would make it one of the most memorable of this journey.
With a calmer mind the world seemed to look a lot different and it occurred to me that seeking spiritual answers to some of life's challenges was one way to make sense of life but another was simply to use your common sense. Whatever the answer, today would be remembered for one overriding thought and that came to me while walking along the Minami Skyline. The thought was, I'm glad I was born.