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The Quest for Lillian Alling: Two authors contributions.
The Quest for Lillian Alling:
Two authors contributions.
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Publication: Thursday 24 March 2005
78 years after Lillian Alling began her journey home; questions and the mystery still remain. Calvin Rutstrum first introduced me to this remarkable women's walk across the US and Canada, and recently Cassandra Pybus has attempted to fill in some of the details.
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Introductory paragraphs found in Calvin Rutstrum's wilderness how-to manuals (Way of the Wilderness and New Way of the Wilderness) were always interesting to me, but would have slipped by essentially unnoticed, except for his reiteration of Lillian's story in his 1980 Hiking Back to Health. Calvin retells the story again to illustrate what a person can do if willing and determined, but this time expands this into a complete chapter; fills in some additional details and included a photograph of her and her dog. He also reveals that he had attempted over the years to determine her fate after she presumably left Alaska.
Cassandra Pybus, in The Women Who Walked to Russia: A Writer's Search for a Lost Legend, combines her attempts to uncover the mystery and motivation of Lillian Alling's 1927-1929 walk across the United States and Canada, with her road trip through British Columbia following Alling's route north.
Excerpts from Rutstrum and Pybus are presented in this review. Rutstrum is probably familiar to many readers here but The Women Who Walked to Russia, is Pybus's first US published book. She is an Australian researcher and writer. I found her book recently while looking through a catalog of books, and even though the sales text or title did not mention Lillian Alling, I knew this was the story that Calvin Rutstrum had used as an introduction to his three first books and again retold in Hiking Back to Health.
Lillian Alling, on the Telegraph Trail Photographer unknown but possibly Jim Christie of Cabin 9, from Calvin Rutstrum's Hiking Back to Health.
So I begin with Calvin's telling of the story, first published by Rutstrum about 2 decades after her journey began.
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In the summer of 1927, Lillian Alling, a young Russian immigrant, homesick and compelled to perform menial tasks for a living in New York, decided to go home. She had no money for transportation---so she would hike back to Russia. She tramped to Chicago, to Minneapolis, to Winnipeg, refusing all invitations to ride.
Next she was seen on the Yukon Telegraph Trail in the northern part of British Columbia, Canada, a small pack on her back and a length of iron pipe in her hand for protection. The Provincial Police at Hazelton prevented her from making a winter journey through the Canadian wilds, but they were able to hold her only until Spring.
Starting out again, she hiked along the Telegraph Trail, over the wild mountain regions, finally reaching Dawson.
Here she worked as a cook, purchased and repaired an old boat, and in the Spring of 1929, plunged her boat into the waters of the Yukon River right behind the outgoing ice and reached a point east of the Seward Peninsula. There she abandoned the boat for overland travel, reaching Nome and later the Bering Strait, where she was last heard of dealing with the Eskimos for boat passage across the Straight to Russian (Asiatic 1952 edit) soil.
Hard to believe? Yes. But if you care to check the story, you will find it in the files of the Provincial Police in British Columbia.
To say that the experience of Lillian Alling is within the bounds of any person intent on such a venture, would, of course, be false. Few person, either man or women, have the hardihood, let alone the ability, to undertake such a venture. My purpose in mentioning it is to show that most of us could, by comparison, undertake a wilderness journey of some kind and succeed if we would arouse our determination, lay our plan, and go ahead with it. Way of the Wilderness, 1946, 1952, 1953.
Calvin's 1958 introduction to The New Way of the Wilderness presented nearly the same text as in the editions of Way of the Wilderness. I present this again at the bottom of this article for the students of Calvin who may be interested in sentence structure and capitalization changes, along with various other small edits, that were probably the result of the large book publishing editors. See article end for this text.
Because of its rarity I present Calvin's retelling and analysis in its entirety from Hike Extraordinary in:
Hiking Back to Health 1980 I have, nevertheless, chosen for distinction and sheer novelty, a hike that made no apparent pretense at competition, and even if it were placed in the competitive category, I think the reader will agree that it has to rank as one of the foremost in length and determination. The fact that the hike was made by a young women might attach to it even greater significance. Also, it might suggest that the Women's Liberation Movement---while grossly obtuse where the subtle process of sex interrelationship is concerned, and where the Movement's tendency is to make irrational "oranges with apples" comparison---cannot be wholly wrong in the contention that women might accomplish much of what is man's boast.
Lillian Alling, a Russian immigrant, the principal in this hike, found New York an unfriendly place because of a language handicap and because she had been compelled to earn her living doing nothing but menial work. There came a time when she had exhausted her tolerance of servility. She longed for the life she had left in Russia, even though it was perhaps drab enough in the collective, totalitarian employment. But our indigenous leaning are not easily explained, and Lillian Alling suffered that nostalgia which so many of us in various ways have to endure,
Perhaps not having sufficient funds for a boat trip---or was it perhaps for a challenge? We really don't know---in any event, she decided in 1927 to walk back to Russia. It was not, we might presume, a poorly calculated undertaking.
She apparently studied maps, for she had laid out her course well. She placed her meager, most essential belongings in a small shoulder pack, acquired a short piece of iron pipe for defense, and set out. Elbowing her way through the crowded streets of New York, she received no more than fleeting glances, and these because of very likely she was the only one of thousands on the streets of New York City who shouldered a pack for a ten thousand mile hike. Had the press known of the aspirations of this girl, or had they occasion to believe that her venture had the least chance of succeeding, an aura of national---even international---news coverage would, no doubt, have hung over her in feature form for the thousands of miles she hiked from New York City to the shores of Bering Strait. But this news coverage was not to be. Her loneliness and her aspirations were hers alone for much of the roughly, I calculated, twenty-two million steps.
We need to pause for a moment and conjecture what might have been her outlook. There is repeated evidence along the way that she refused all lifts, whether through fear or independence, though, as seen by numerous motorists, she hiked from New York to Chicago on the highway. Apparently, she feared the possible consequences of accepting such rides, seeming to cringe when rides were offered. The iron pipe weapon of defense which she carried further indicated that she thought hitchhiking might involve hazards. Yet, there are other indications that she would some day probably want to boast to her peoples on the Steppes of Russia that she had made this great solo hike. Can we not also assume that she enjoyed the undertaking? She was accustomed to hard work, and obviously well withstood the rigors of weather. Though of average build, she was strong as evidenced by her achievement;
and no doubt, she grew physically more capable with each mile hiked.
Conspicuous enough as a lone girl with a pack, she was seen in Chicago, in Minneapolis, and in Winnipeg. If her great hike began with but a single step, as we commonly say, she repeated that first step enough times to bring her across the United States and a part of Canada, to the Yukon Telegraph Trail in the northern part of British Columbia.
A telegraph trail linesman was utterly amazed to see a lone women hiking in that remote wilderness, especially in the late fall when weather could be harassing even for the hardy telegraph service men. Her clothes were tattered fro trail abuse. If her laudable determination and spirit of adventure were not to be questioned, her knowledge of the coming weather as applied to her dress and equipment apparently were. The linesman telephoned the British Columbia Provincial Police at Hazelton and reported her attempt to brave the approaching winter mountain wilderness.
The Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police of Canada had had need at times to intercept various individuals and small parties venturing into the wilderness when these authorities had reason to question the party's ability to cope with weather, the remote wilderness, and other unfamiliar adversities. But the situation must certainly be rare where such interception was applied to a venturesome girl, from perishing in the deep snow, subzero temperatures and blizzards, so common to the higher altitudes of the Rockies. Nevertheless, knowing what she was up against, her spirit was undaunted. She pleaded with the detaining police that many miles could be covered before the big snows came.
But undaunted spirits are not the only requirements needed to cope with mountain wilderness in winter.
Consequently, the police managed to find sufficient employment for her in the area, so that before heading out again in the spring, she had accumulated some cash. Why the Provincial Police should be so concerned about her safety as an individual, was somehow difficult for her to understand. They let here continue her hike as the weather warmed, on the condition that she report to each of the cabin service stations along the Telegraph Trail.
Linesmen at these cabins kept tab on her between stations, and whenever they accompanied her part way over Copyright © Outdoors-Magazine.com Page 4/8 The Quest for Lillian Alling: Two authors contributions.
stretches of rough terrain, they found her setting an amazing pace. She did not dally even at the cabins, though dutifully reporting in to satisfy the travel safety requirement of the Provincial Police. From these stops she departed immediately. Thus, as a result of her cryptic manner, a kind of mystery and legend grew up about her among the people with whom she was obliged by circumstance to make contact. Men living for long periods alone in the wilderness naturally create a hunger for talk and take advantage of the opportunity whenever rare circumstances allow contact. There was little talk, however, when Lillian Alling reached the cabins of the lone linesmen. She withheld all comment on the purpose and general nature of her long trek. Fanciful conjecture naturally followed here whole motive for making the hike. She did, however, let down her guard enough to accept the offer of a dog as a companion from one of the linesmen on the trail.
By the time Lillian Alling arrived at Dawson, Yukon Territory, she had used up another hiking season and was obliged to spend the second winter there. She obtained a job as a cook in one of the lumber camps. From Dawson to Bering Strait not trails and only dense wilderness lay before her, forming a barrier to hiking. She, nevertheless, was not frustrated in her effort to continue. During her spare time she patched up a crude, abandoned boat. Here at Dawson flowed the famous Yukon River, and her amid the outgoing spring ice, Lillian Alling launched here unsturdy craft in the wide expanse of the spring flowage and headed down river. She was seen in her craft at Tanana, Alaska, drifting toward the coast.
Those applauding her success, others questioning her judgment and capability along the route, were both the people who were seriously concerned about her safety, and the invidious elements who likely did not possess quite the dominant spirit equal to that of this slip of a girl. With methodical precision of what seemed to be a well-organized river voyage, she arrived in Nome, Alaska. There she abandoned her craft, which was found in very poor condition, and made some minor purchases for resuming foot travel.
Travel achievement, no matter what the method, seemed to be hers---resourcefully fitting the mode of travel to the terrain. This was evidenced by the fact that, as seen by an Eskimo, she was hiking along the beach, pulling a tiny cart containing her possessions. She had fashioned the cart herself out of some miscellaneous junk, further evidence of her capability.
On the shore of Bering Strait, the account of her great journey becomes nebulous. Conjecture tells us that she succeeded in getting the Eskimos to take her across the waters of the Strait, for she was seen talking to them. Since from here on she was no longer seen in Alaska, we can assume that she continued her journey in Russia. I have endeavored by correspondence with the Russian press to learn what happened to her---if she reached the Russian side, if she was lost in crossing the Strait, or if she met trouble on reentry. Correspondence, so far, has failed to evoke any kind of answer. This is understandable because we have to presume that before the unfree Russian press could answer such an inquiry, they would likely under slave-state "journalism" have to plead their request---and, no doubt, futilely---with the hoi polloi-minded Kremlin. Where totalitarianism is the whole emphasis, the Lillian Allings, apparently, get short shrift with all other noncollective-associated, aspiring individualism. Her extraordinary achievement might well have deserved the plaudits and respect of a free and appreciative society. Hiking Back to Health, 1980.
The Women Who Walked to Russia: A Writer's Search for a Lost Legend, 2003