A Florida woman is hitchhiking to all 50 states, but she’s not sticking her thumb out on the highway.
She’s hitching flights with pilots of general aviation airplanes and private jets.
Amber Nolan was in Wichita on Tuesday after a flight to Kansas City with a corporate pilot was diverted because of bad weather.
Nolan, who calls herself the JetHiking Gypsy, can check Kansas off the list.
Nolan, 30, said she began the journey in 2012 with only a backpack and a desire.
Now she has only two states to go – Oklahoma and Hawaii.
“I go hang out at the airports a lot of times and talk to pilots,” Nolan said. She also posts on bulletins and on social media asking if someone is flying her way.
Sometimes she calls the local Experimental Aviation Association’s local chapters.
Nolan is blogging about her journey and writing a book of her adventures.
One of her goals is to get the word out about general aviation.
At times, getting a ride has been easy. She’d hang out at airports and talk to people. Other times, not so much.
“Texas was tough,” Nolan said. “It took a month to get a flight.” Smaller airports have been more challenging because fewer flights go in and out.
She’s slept at airports and campgrounds and stayed with newly made friends.
She’s also turned to couchsurfing.com, a website listing people willing to open their doors to travelers.
She said she gave up her apartment in Fort Lauderdale and put her belongings in storage and hitched her first ride in July 2012 from Rochester, N.Y., to Nashville, Tenn.
At times, she’s stopped to work odd jobs when she’s run out of money. One of the most memorable trips was in a historic B-17, the Memphis Belle, flying to Cincinnati from Sellersburg, Ind., after a barnstorming tour.
Late Monday, she was flying with Josh Hunter, a pilot for an Indianapolis manufacturer who lives in Cincinnati. Hunter, who flies the company’s Cirrus, diverted to Wichita.
Nolan and Hunter had been flying from Las Vegas and were going to make a stop in Kansas City to drop Nolan off when bad weather diverted them to Wichita.
“Her story is the ultimate story of the welcoming nature of general aviation,” Hunter said. “I think everybody recognizes this is a relatively outsider trying to tell the story of how great aviation is.”
Nolan, after having breakfast at the Beacon in downtown Wichita on Tuesday, said she would decide whether to stay in Wichita or go to Kansas City to try to catch a flight into Oklahoma.
After that, she plans to travel to Van Nuys, Calif., in hopes of finding a pilot heading to Hawaii with an empty seat – and the means to complete her mission.
Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.