We could say our heroine walked alone on the afternoon of her seventh day on the Via Podiensis, but that would only be partially true. Though she was mostly devoid of human companionship on that day, she did manage to find companionship of another kind.
On Saturday, June 24, 2017, after a lunch of bread, cheese, and cherries, our heroine left the small town of Nasbinals and continued her walk through the Aubrac region of France.
As she walked the road out of town, a brown and white dog up ahead of her slid under a fence and headed toward a house. But as she walked by the house, he slid back out and caught her eye. She smiled, but didn’t say anything to him, not wanting to indicate that she was in anyway interested in having his company. Not because she didn’t like dogs, but because she didn’t want him to go far from home on her account. But he wanted to join her: he trotted off ahead of her and turned right onto the forested trail, as if leading her. He then took off at a gallop and was soon out of her view. She figured he would turnaround and return to his home but instead, once she got to open pasture land, she saw him sniffing his way across the field to her right. Then the tall grasses hid him from her view.
The rolling hills around her were only populated by cows and rocks. The largest rocks dotted the countryside; the smaller ones had been collected and piled into stone walls that crisscrossed the landscape as far as she could see.
She walked alone for twenty minutes and then heard heavy panting behind her. She turned to see the dog flying up the trail towards her. She stopped and let him go ahead of her, and watched as he soon took a left under a barbed wire fence and again disappeared from her view.
After 3 miles of his disappearing and reappearing, she encountered a French couple walking towards her on the trail. They were on the Tour d’Aubrac — another walk in the area. They greeted each other and when she was asked how her walk was, she pointed to the dog and said he had been with her since Nasbinals. She wondered aloud if he would return home. The French couple tried to call him, but he just looked and then went on about his business in the pasture.
Our heroine soon arrived at a large sign that indicated–in both French and English– that beyond this fence only pilgrims were allowed. No dogs, no horses, no bicycles, no motorized vehicles. She had read about this area on the Internet the night before. She would be walking through pastures in which cows and bulls were dining. She imagined the farmers didn’t want other animals or bicycles to agitate the inhabitants of these fields. But there was nothing to keep an unleashed dog from entering.
She had taken to calling the dog Naz, short for the name of the town in which they met. She never called him by name, though. Nor did she feed him or even touch him. She thought by ignoring him he might decide it was time to go back to people that loved him. But she had no such luck.
When she stopped at the sign he showed up next to her. He then trotted into the pasture and she watched as the cows paid him no mind, nor he them. Maybe this was a regular route for him? Was he there so often that they no longer cared? Whatever it was, she took it as a good sign, opened the fence, closed it behind her, and stayed on the trail.
She hoped Naz would stay far enough ahead of her that if he happened to agitate any of the animals, she would have enough time to act. What would she do? She hadn’t yet figured that out. Slide under the barbed wire fence perhaps?
Naz disappeared from her view again, showing up thirty minutes later with his legs and belly covered in mud. He eventually saw a couple ahead of our heroine and ran to join them. But when she stopped for a break, he trotted back down to her, sitting beside her pack and smelling worse than she did. It was not just mud he had walked through apparently.
After 6 miles of walking together, she arrived at her accommodation for the night. Naz had disappeared again but after she checked into her gite, she saw him walking around the parking lot. She explained to the owner of the gite that the dog was not hers, how he had followed her since Nasbinals. Thankfully, he had a collar which held a tag with a phone number. The woman called and his owner came to pick him up. Turns out Naz wasn’t a “he” at all. Her name was Jenny, and when her owner arrived in a pick up truck, Jenny jumped into the bed. The owner thanked us for calling, and with that, our heroine’s afternoon companion finally returned home.