Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lillian Travel Blog, Entry #8

Photo credit: Lee Russell/Library of Congress

On the Telegraph Trail
May, 1928

I tell Scotty that I have extra shifts at the restaurant and that I can not see him for a few days, hoping this white lie will give me the head start I need to reach Jozéf. For I know Scotty, and I know that he will try to follow me. Everything must be settled before he finds me.

I have money enough to buy a ticket for the train to Hazelton. Riding in comfort, I chide myself that I think I have become a fine lady. I remember back to my ragamuffin self last summer, hopping boxcars across the country, trekking long miles with holes in my boots and my clothing in tatters. I worry that I have become soft since then, unused to long hauls on rugged tracks all the day long. Last year I made it only as far as Scotty’s cabin, Cabin Two along the Telegraph Trail. There are nine linemen’s cabins before Telegraph Creek, before Jozéf – hundreds of miles more to travel through unknown mountains and wilderness. But there is no point in my asking myself whether I am up to the task. I have no choice in the matter. Finding Jozéf is my duty, and my destiny.

I set out from Hazelton, wishing I had more time to prepare for my journey, but time is of the essence. I follow the telegraph line again, this time skirting around the linemen’s cabins, knowing that – should one of the linemen spy me – the telegraph lines will be abuzz with news that the “Mystery Woman” has returned.

I keep walking, through the tall forest, scrambling down into crevasses and struggling up steep slopes, scraping my hands and shins on sharp rocks. Past the spot where the bear ate my food. Past Cabin Two, where fleetingly I think of Scotty, and the happiness we could have shared.

I am in unfamiliar territory now. The telegraph line leads me to a rickety bridge spanning a deep chasm, the waters of the Skeena River crashing below with spring runoff. I take a step or two, and discover that many of the planks are impossibly rotten. But there is no way back for me. I force myself across the bridge, testing each board as I go. I learn something I did not know about myself before. I am afraid of heights!

It is still cold in the night time. I build a fire, taking the chance that if Scotty is following me, he will not see the smoke. As I warm my hands, I hear something in the bushes – something large. Then I see cat eyes glowing in the dark, and hear the cougar snarl. I have grown fearless. I take a burning log from the fire and thrash it wildly, shouting. After a few minutes, all is silent. I stay awake most of that night, feeding the fire.

Then disaster! I am making my way down a steep narrow path, hugging the mountainside, when suddenly from above comes a roar and deluge of tumbling rocks. I flatten myself against the mountain, but a rock strikes my hand – the hand holding my bag. The bag is gone down into the gorge, and with it my food. All I have left is the clothes on my back. But I must press on.

At last I pass the ninth lineman’s cabin. I must be near now, to Telegraph Creek. I come upon a small stream. And at this stream I see the back of a man. He holds a pan in his hand, with which he scoops mud from the creek bed. “Jozéf?” I say to him. “Jozéf Nikitich Lazinsky?” Jozéf turns to me. At long last, I have found you.