humans, we always had the natural skill of migration and exploration that required extensive travel, in most cases by foot. A long and dangerous journey can always be frightening, but at the same time, the light at the end of the tunnel represents the final goal and kindles the determination required to succeed. One of the most amazing journeys done by a human in the 20th century is definitely Lillian Alling’s journey home (as described in the book) from New York all the way to Siberia.
Far away from home
Alling was raised in the North-Eastern part of Siberia (Russia) in a poor village. Her dream was always to make it to the big city of America, New York. In her late 20s, she followed this dream of hers and managed to migrate to New York, in the United States. She spent a few years working in different jobs. Even if she wasn’t paid that well, she was happy to have accomplished her dream. With time, she started to become tired of New York as she was suffering from homesickness.
In 1926, she wanted to go back home to Siberia, but even with all the money she had raised over the years she worked in New York, she could not afford a ticket on a steamboat to take her back to Russia. The rent and all other living expenses were simply too high for her to raise enough money to buy a ticket back home. Therefore, on the brink of separation, she made the drastic — yet ambitious — decision to walk all the way back to her small town in Siberia.
This meant that she would have to traverse the whole of America, Canada, and Alaska, with Alaska being the hardest terrain to cross due to the extreme weather conditions as well as dangerous wildlife. To prepare for her long journey, she started studying maps and making a quite detailed notebook of the best routes to take and the places she should stay away from resources she found in the New York Library.
In the book Lillian Alling: The Journey Home by Susan Smith Josephy, it is presented that crossing America, even if this took almost two years on foot, was the easiest part of the journey. By December 1926 she had reached the Canadian border at Niagara Falls where customs officers could not believe that her last place of residence was New York and that she had walked all the way without hitchhiking a ride. They wished her a good journey as she stepped on Canadian land.
Almost a year later, in September 1927, she entered British Columbia. At the Yukon Telegraph Trail that contained a pathway of over 1,000 miles, Alling was stopped by authorities who were called by Telegraph lineman out of concern as they kept seeing this woman walking day in and day out on the same route. She told the authorities that she planned to walk all the way to Russia.
The authorities knew that the winter period was deadly, especially for someone that was planning to walk for so many miles, therefore they had no choice but to charge her with vagrancy and imprison her in order to protect her. She spent the next two months in the Oakalla Prison somewhere near Vancouver. After her release, she worked for a few weeks in Vancouver in order to save up some more money to continue her travel.
Her story became quite popular in British Columbia, therefore before getting back to her journey she was given some supplies from the authorities as well as a dog companion to make her journey more pleasant. Once she had reached Yukon, the locals that had heard her story awaited her arrival with gifts and other supplies. Even with all the support, Alling didn’t have enough money to make it all the way to Siberia, therefore she spent another couple of weeks working in Dawson City.
Once she raised enough capital, she resumed her journey with the purchase of an old boat that she sailed onto the Yukon River towards Alaska. Once she had reached Nome, Alaska, she ditched the boat and started walking on foot again. The last record of her travels from American authorities was at the end of 1929 at Teller, Alaska. Although the journey in Alaska was dangerous and harsh due to the extreme weather conditions, Alling was used to it because of her upbringing in Siberia where the weather conditions were quite similar.
Travel from Alaska to Russia was quite common as it is only 55 miles across the two lands. Historians have recorded that Eskimos and other Native Americans frequently traveled from Alaska to Russia and vice versa. Therefore it is very possible that Alling was taken by Eskimos over to the Russian land where she continued her journey towards Northern Siberia.
After many years, her story was picked up by an author named Francis Dickie who published an account of Alling’s journey in True West magazine in 1972. This was done from ample research by following the route Alling had taken over the four years and finding people who knew the story as well as people that had actually met her in person during her journey and her short breaks.