Pull the Plug?

My left ankle won’t bend straight up and down.  I discover this by faceplanting after trying to pick myself up off the futon.  Any attempt to force it results in burning.  Ah shit, what did I do to myself yesterday…

I try to get up and put some weight on it to see if it’ll work itself out.  Nope, can’t put any weight on it without serious pain.  Okay, this little hotel is pretty comfy, maybe I’ll just take a day off.  I hobble down the stairs with great difficulty as there’s no railing to hold onto, find the owner and ask him if I can stay another night.  Nope, place is full.  He apologizes but that’s how it is.  Shit shit shit.

Coming down the stairs with my pack on the way out is a real touch-and-go operation.  I think maybe I’ll try to find another place, but I might as well walk toward temple number twenty-six in my search.  It’s only about four kilometres away but it’s up a hill, and right now I don’t think I can do that.

I do pass by a hotel but it’s expensive and my ankle is sort of, kind of, starting to work itself out.  A couple more kilometres of sidewalks and I reach the start of the proper trail up the hill to the temple.  It’s not too bad, only 150 metres or so.

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By the time I reach the top my ankle is feeling a lot worse than it was even in when I first woke up.  I take off my boot and even just touching the front of it hurts now.  It’s swollen as well.  Okay, I really need to just call it quits today… right after I climb about 100 steps up to the temple to get my nokyo-cho signed.

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Judging from my map it looks like a shorter walk to the highway if I keep moving forward rather than backtracking so I do so.  I follow the road for a short distance uphill first, past a couple of small farms.

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The trail diverts from the road through a few orchards and fields.  It’s a shame I’m in so much pain because it’s a great day for walking.  At this point I’m putting all my weight on my right leg and just dragging lefty behind me and I can’t help thinking what will happen if I hurt my right leg in the process.  This sucks.

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The trail starts dropping fast and the surface turns to shit fast as well.  Loose, jagged fist-sized rocks, with not a lot of lateral space between the hillside and the drop.  Going down, putting all my weight on one foot, this is extremely difficult.  I’m moving slowly and sweating hard, not from the effort required but because I’m nervous as shit and legitimately worried I might really fuck myself up here.

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I reach the bottom in one piece but I can hardly walk.  By some miracle there’s a bus stop twenty feet from where the trail meets the highway, and a bus arrives five minutes after I drag myself over to it.

I take the bus as far as Nahiri, a town that’s about 30 km up the road and where I’d been hoping to reach on foot in the next day or two.  It seems okay but if I’m going to be laid up for a couple days or more as I’m anticipated I’d prefer to be in a proper city, so I jump on the train at Nahiri and ride it all the way to Kochi.  There I scan the skyline and head toward one of the shabbier looking hotels I can spot.

And that was pretty much it for Shikoku.  After three days in the hotel I still couldn’t put any real weight on my ankle.  It improved but not enough – even writing this now, five days later, it’s still problematic.  On the third day I left the hotel to go to the train station to test how it felt – if it felt okay after that short distance I’d head back to where I left off, it it didn’t I’d say to hell with it and head back to Honshu and one of the large cities to enjoy other aspects of Japan.  When I reached the station I threw in the towel.

It’s unfortunate but I’d rather see everything else that Japan has to offer than hang around in Shikoku waiting who-knows-how-long for my ankle to get right.  Ultimately I did about 244 km out of approximately 1150, and visited 26 of the 88 temples.  Not even close to finishing but I learned a few things:

  • I like hiking, but not as much as some people.  Twelve and a half days of walking were just about enough.
  • I need to invest in better boots or figure out how to avoid hurting my feet.  I also had to cut a hike short in Patagonia because I busted up my heel.  Maybe I just suck at walking.
  • I don’t really like walking in the rain, and camping in the rain really grinds my gears.

So that’s it.  Writing this in a Hiroshima hostel after visiting the site of the atomic bomb detonation and on my way to Himeji tomorrow, Kyoto after that, then Tokyo then home.
Post-Script:  Ultimately it took about three weeks for my ankle to heal, so even though I was worried about pulling the plug on Shikoku prematurely I’m glad I did – hanging out in Kochi for three weeks would’ve sucked, and I likely would’ve tried to put weight on the foot again too soon.  By Himeji I was able to walk with full gear on flat land for 30-45 minute intervals and by Tokyo I could go for a couple hours, but it wasn’t 100% until returning to Canada.  For a variety of health coverage and insurance reasons I never went to a doctor so I’m still not sure what I did to it.

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