When we travel, it’s best to do so hopefully. It should be about the journey, not the destination – everything interesting happens along the way; getting there can be anticlimactic.

For Christmas 2017, my sons were invited to come up with suggestions for a journey we could take together; sensing my knees have a timeline, I wanted an adventure, not a vacation.

The suggestion of running with the bulls intrigued me. Checking it out, I realized it was on the Camino, a 500-mile pilgrimage route that my wife and I had walked to celebrate our 25th anniversary more than seven years earlier.

The plan was devised; we would begin at the start of the traditional Camino, hiking over the French Pyrenees into Spain, ending in Pamplona July 4, the eve before opening ceremonies.

The running of the bulls, made famous by the writings of Ernest Hemmingway, begins July 6 each year and goes eight days. Our adventure would begin with walking three days to get there.

In Part 2, the details will begin to come out; part 1 is instead about the rest of the story. The piece where life happens in unexpected ways and, though it is not part of the adventure, it gets you to the adventure, while lifting your soul.

The Pyrenees proved to be my match; a lot harder than I remembered. At five miles (the only civilized stop on the more than 15-mile trek), I was gassed. The planned 45-minute stop turned into almost two hours; it was closing in on 3:30 p.m. with 10 miles to go; my sons sensed trouble.

I was cramping from dehydration and light-headed. Since we were now on a road, they suggested a taxi (for me) to Roncesvalles, Spain, where a room awaited and they would meet me. After a couple more double-overs, the dizziness and cramps subsided and I decided (perhaps selfishly) to forge on; the book said an average hiker would take five hours.

At this point, just two and a half hours into the three-day hike, I was not looking like an average hiker; rather more like a gimpy old geezer. Knowing it would be a battle against the clock to stay out of the darkness, onward we went.

Then, the rest of the story; the boys, a little angry at me and concerned at the lateness of the hour, went ahead, leaving me laboring up the mountain path in their wake.

That’s when it happened; fate stepped into my pathway.

In front of me was a steep incline and a couple walking. They stopped to read a sign while I waddled past with my 25-plus-pound pack, including the full camel-pack of water needed to get me through the afternoon.

Minutes later, my “angel” Luke and his wife, Leava, would catch up and ask how I was doing. It was not a surprise when I admitted I was struggling. About a mile into the afternoon, I was steady and slow with just “quiet resolve” moving me forward.

They were staying overnight where we had stopped earlier for our rest and lunch; they were breaking the Pyrenees into a two-day hike instead of powering through it. After a minute of walking together; Luke asked if I would like him to take my pack for a while, saying they were walking up to a monument a little ways ahead to check it out.

I shot out a quick; “Thanks, but no thanks,” and the three of us continued upwards, the kids far off in the distance. A minute later, my senses returned; “You still willing to carry my pack?”

He nodded and the transfer was completed posthaste. The first thing out of his mouth was, “Sure is heavy.”

Onward we went; for the next one and a half difficult miles, he carried my pack as I walked with ease. We talked about their alternative medicine commune business in Belgium, about hiking, sprinkled in with some United States politics. Forty minutes later, we arrived at the monument where my son Lucas was waiting and I introduced my “angel.”

Luke gave me back my pack and with it a sense of hope. The recovery almost complete, I managed the remaining seven miles, finishing the afternoon just minutes behind the five-hour estimated pace, beating the setting sun in the process.

We are not in this world alone; thankfully, there are Lukes and Leavas who do not look the other way when something messy is in front of them. Instead, they see, and then they do.

Thanks to them, day one was doable and day two would see me gain strength and momentum.

Thanks to their example, the kindness of strangers was tangible, and a hug and my promise to “pay it forward” enough of a reward.

“Not all who wander are lost.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien, novelist (1892-1973)