Exploring the country from 10,000 feet up

Amber Nolan

LINCOLN — The Jet Hiking Gypsy left Lincoln on Wednesday afternoon.

Amber Nolan hitched a ride on a Cessna heading to Boone, Iowa — a place she's never been, and might never see again.

“Hi, I'm Amber, are you flying with me?” the wavy-haired woman in aviator glasses asked the man standing beside the single-engine four-seater.

She shook the pilot's hand, stashed her backpack, her tent, her laptop and a plastic bag of ramen noodles and granola bars in the back, then waited for takeoff.

The woman knows the drill.

For the past year she's been on the road — and 10,000 feet above the road — after hatching this plan: Hitchhike by plane to all 50 states.

She's snatched a domain name, Jet Hiking Gypsy, and she's blogged about her travels.

She's hoping to get to Alaska before winter, checking off states as she goes in an order that is part planning and part serendipity.

Lincoln, for instance.

Last week the freelance travel writer from upstate New York was in Oshkosh, Wis., at Airventure, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally for small-plane enthusiasts. She was having a good time but, as always, was looking for a new place to touch down.

In Wisconsin, she was surrounded by pilots, so she wasn't terribly worried. Then she heard a voice behind her.


The voice belonged to Dave White, an 18-year-old pilot she had met in Texas last winter. He lives in Lincoln now, and he had a spare seat on his Mooney.

“I've never picked up a hitchhiker in a car before,” Dave said.

And he'd never heard of anyone hitchhiking on planes.

The idea to travel the country by air came after a few years of working as a travel writer and doing less and less traveling and more and more sitting.

She quit her job to backpack South and Central America, and when she came back, she decided to explore this America.

She started looking for ways to make that happen.

A friend who works at an airport told her pilots always were looking to take someone for a ride.

And the propellers in Amber's mind started to turn.

How could she turn a plane ride into a gig? Satisfy her love of travel and her love of writing?

She talked to some pilots in her hometown of Geneseo, N.Y., near Rochester.

It could work, they said.

Approximately 15,000 air miles and 37 states later, it appears it is.

She's flown in all sorts of planes: single-engine, small jets, biplanes, open cockpits, planes from the 1940s, space age-looking experimental models.

And she's flown over all sorts of places: low along the Hudson River and the Rio Grande, high over mountain ranges, upside down in Georgia.

She's set down on grass landing strips, been stranded in a farmhouse after a runway was temporarily blocked by center-pivot irrigation, crawled across the runway when they planned to leave.

Along the way, she's met amazing people who love to fly.

“The biggest surprise was this whole community out there that I didn't know existed.”

It's flying at its best, says the woman waving goodbye from the backseat of the Cessna on Wednesday.

“I'm not really crazy about commercial flight. You can't see anything. And I hate those long lines at the airport.”

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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