Amber Nolan has taken the well-known form of wandering, hitchhiking, to a whole new environment: the air. By hitching rides on private, General Aviation planes, Amber is making her way to every state in the United States with her Jethiking project. Emaho spoke with Amber about jethiking, General Aviation, and the flexibility required for this style of travelling.
Emaho : What ignited an interest in airplanes and hitch hiking?
I’ve always had an adventurous spirit and have been skydiving and paragliding, and my first airplane ride was in a small plane over the Finger Lakes in upstate New York (a very picturesque area). I’ve been a travel writer for the last seven years, so I’m constantly on the move and it has become a way of life for me.
Emaho : You came up with the idea for jethiking when you wanted your next adventure to be around the United States, to see your own backyard. What were some of the rules and restrictions you set for yourself in this adventure?
In order to count a state I have to hitch a flight and leave the airport to explore the area, so fuel stops or touch-and-gos don’t count.
Emaho : As part of the jethiking experience, you reached out to the General Aviation (GA) community to hitch rides. Could you tell us more about becoming involved in this community and the community/industry in general?
The GA community has been wonderful. They are a great group of people who have rallied around this journey. I’ve been invited to several fly-ins, picnics, and barbecues and have made many new friends. It is a tight knit community of aviation enthusiasts who love the freedom of flying. It is their hobby, their passion, and for many people – their careers. Most recently, I attended AirVenture (the largest air show in the world), and within a few minutes I had already bumped into people who I have met on this trip.
Hang Glide Hang Miami better
Emaho : Could you give us a general timeline/map of your trip and the states you’ve been to so far?
I began in July 2012 and I have been to 41 states. There is a map on my website showing what states I still have to visit.
Emaho : Early in your jethiking trip, you were jumped and beaten up at a bus station in Detroit, with all of your possessions stolen. How did this event impact the rest of your jethiking travels?
I really don’t focus on that. Financially, I had to replace all my cameras, laptops, etc…. with lesser-quality items from a thrift store but I kept right on going. I didn’t let it hold me back. One bad experience doesn’t cancel out the thousands of wonderful times I have had, and the caring people I’ve met.
Emaho : Tell us about some of the people you have met and stayed with while jethiking. Did any leave a particularly strong impact?
I don’t even know where to start. I’ve met amazing people everywhere I go and I wish I could give a shout out to all of them. It’s refreshing and encouraging to know that there are so many good people out there who are eager to lend a helping hand.
Emaho : You’ve run into issues with ground transportation while getting around or between cities in a state. Do you have any comments on public transportation in America and the options of ground transportation available?
Outside of major cities, public transportation in America is practically non-existent and even within major cities there is room for improvement. Having traveled to other countries, I have experienced many forms of efficient transportation and I hope that can America adapt similar transportation systems.
Emaho : Could you tell us about some of your favorite experiences while jethiking, both on and off of the ground?
Some of my favorite flights have included aerobatics, flying the plane myself, landing on grass strips, taking off at sunrise and sunset, flying up the Hudson River next to the New York skyline at 1,500 feet (457 meters) next to the statue of Liberty, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and low flying in the desert next to the Rio Grande, wild horses running next to the plane. On the ground, I’ve met a Voodoo priestess, a traveling magician, been to the Burning Man festival, the Iowa State Fair, worked on a sailboat, volunteered at a couple of state parks, climbed a mountain in New Hampshire with peace activists, worked on an urban farm, hiked Glacier National Park, saw the Grand Canyon, went on a few different pontoon boats, welcomed in the New Year by watching a Native American turtle dance ceremony, and so many other adventures. I’m writing a book about all of it.
Taos Airport chillin
Emaho : While jethiking, your plans have had to change quickly, either because of weather changes or at the whim of the pilot. How do you work with these changes of plan?
The pilot has to follow the weather, and I have to go where they do. I go wherever the wind takes us. I have to roll with whatever comes my way, and try not to plan at all. It leaves room for unexpected adventures, and keeps things interesting.
Emaho : Is there any jethiking flight that you would consider your favorite so far? What about that flight makes it so special?
Flying in New Mexico still sticks out in my mind because for miles and miles there were no roads in sight. We were out in the desert low-flying next to wild horses and it made me forget about the modern gridlock for a while. Flying over the Golden Gate Bridge (in San Francisco), and up the Hudson River next to the statue of liberty is another (with the top down in the airplane!)
Emaho : When you first started jethiking, you were warned that “flying is addictive”. Would you agree with this? What about flying makes it addictive?
Yes, the fact that you can get in a plane and take it anywhere and land on a grass strip or small airport in a town you would have probably never been to. There is such a freedom with flying. While you are in the air, you can forget about “earthly stress,” and just focus on the moment. There are no roads – just sky ways.
Art & Culture Interviewed by Brittany Spear