ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — When you hear that Amber Nolan is a “sky hitchhiker,” you might envision someone with a backpack sitting on a cloud with her thumb outstretched. Not quite.
The 28-year-old travel writer and aviating adventurer calls herself the “Hitchhiking Flying Gypsy,” bumming rides with pilots of mainly small private jets and airplanes.
Nolan had explored caves in Wales, flown in a hot air balloon over Madagascar and looked for natives in Costa Rica.
But this summer, Nolan realized that, though she had been around the world, she hadn’t seen much of the United States. She began to think about a big road trip, but that required a car and people to share the trip.
Then, she thought about buses and trains, but that seemed too expensive and time consuming. She heard from a friend that sometimes people hitch a ride on a small airplane, so she thought, if someone can do that once, why not 50 times?
Nolan in July started her quest to travel to all 50 states in a year, arriving in Albuquerque on Saturday. She hopped on a city bus Downtown, met the “Candy Lady,” who owns a shop in Old Town and who gave her some candy, and tried her first red chile burrito at a North Albuquerque flea market.
Nolan said she was struck by the friendliness and willingness to help shown by people on the bus.
“In a lot of places, people will just hold themselves very tight and together,” she said, wrapping her arms tightly around herself. “But here, people are very open and friendly.”
She was leaving on a (small) jet plane on Sunday, on her way to Santa Fe and Taos.
Nolan, who is originally from upstate New York, began hitting the pavement, well, the skyways, after college. She got her degree in journalism, then went in hopes of making it big in New York City, but hardly made anything working at unpaid internships and as a waitress.
“So I decided to take off to see the world, leaving behind friends, jobs and men to get my travel fix,” she said.
Right out of the wild blue yonder, she found a lifestyle that combined her love of writing with her love for travel and adventure.
It couldn’t have happened without her friends at General Aviation, a tight knit community of flyers in everything from hang gliders to home built planes, to small corporate business jets.
Living on a penny and a prayer, Nolan works when she has to, housekeeping at a hostel, freelance writing or as a waitress. The amiable Nolan makes plenty of friends along the way. She has a blog about her trip, at www.JetHiking.com, and she may write a book when her yearlong trek is over.
A pilot friend once told her that a mile of road can take her to the edge of town, but a mile of runway could take her to the rest of the world.
“I’ve never forgotten that,” she said.