Today’s stage included a long steady climb up a Basque mountain.

My partner, feeling tired, opted for headphones and music and took off. I followed. Slowly.

On our first day, Jean-Francois, though we didn’t know his name then (he only revealed it in a series of text messages as we debated the wisdom of switching from the Camino Frances to the Camino del Norte) had asked, “Can I give you some advice?” before we set off.

“Start very slowly. Keep it light, easy. And remember, you are never alone in the Camino.”

Today, on the long, steady hike to Collado de Aparain, I made sure to start slowly. My partner surged ahead, but I kept my pace slow and deliberate.

I tried to keep it light and easy by walking on the edge of the concrete path, and was grateful for the light bed of pine needles, sometimes on the right of the path, sometimes on the left, that cushioned each step.

Ahead of me, my partner, inspired by the music, played air guitar with walking sticks.

Ahead of me, I saw a man running down the mountain, followed by his German shepherd. The man ran by in the middle of the concrete path, but the dog, rounding the curve about fifteen feet ahead of me, veered onto my pine needle path and trotted determinedly toward me.

He didn’t falter, and nor did I. There was just enough room for the two of us to pass, him going down, me going up, sharing the soft, cool bed of pine.

I was not alone on the Camino.

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