At KTNA radio in Talkeetna, the staff often has people contact it asking for help finding a ride. Normally, it’s someone needing to get to town for an appointment or looking for a ride to the airport. On Wednesday, a very different kind of ride-seeker walked through the doors.
So, you’re hitchhiking by plane, trying to reach all fifty states?
That’s Amber Nolan. She’s a travel writer who has been hitching rides on private aircraft for the better part of two years. Her goal for this leg of her journey is to make it from Key West, Florida, to Point Barrow, Alaska. Amber says her work has taken her all over the world, but she had not seen as much of America as she would like, so she decided to start traveling.
“One thing led to another, and this idea came up to hitchhike across the U.S. by general aviation,” she said. “I thought it would be an interesting viewpoint and perspective on the U.S., and also, when you’re landing at small airports, it gives you an entirely different angle to go at. You’re not flying into big cities. You get to see the small-town U.S. instead of just the major tourist points.”
Hitchhiking is relatively common in Alaska. For most people, it means standing along the side of the road with a thumb in the air and sometimes a sign with a destination on it. With airplanes, things work differently. Amber Nolan says the initial reaction she gets is often one of surprise:
“I usually just go in and tell whoever is working at the [fixed-base operator], or just in the airport, what I’m doing, and I usually get, ‘Wait, what? What are you doing?’ and then kind of the weird eyes of, ‘Are you crazy?’ Then, after a minute, they understand that I’m on this adventure.”
Word then spreads among the local pilot community, and when someone is willing to give Amber a ride in roughly the right direction, she hops on board. In small towns, where only a few planes come in and out on a given day, that can take awhile. Other times, Murphy’s Law rears its head and causes longer delays:
“In Texas, I got stuck for quite a few weeks, because one thing led to another: Rain came in, problems with an airplane,” she said. “So, it seemed like I had four different people offer to give me a ride, and something went wrong every time.”
Amber says some of her flights have been particularly memorable, including one in a former warplane:
“I got to hitchhike on a B-17, which was just epic. I couldn’t get the grin off my face the entire time.”
“Where was that?” she is asked.
“From Indiana, they were doing a barnstorming tour. They were going from town to town doing scenic flights. People would make reservations and do the flight. So, I said, ‘What about between towns? Do you have any room on those flights?’ And he says, ‘Well, the whole plane’s empty if you want to go.'”
With clouds in the forecast, Amber anticipates waiting a few days in Talkeetna. It probably won’t be long, though, until she is on her way north once more.>>
You can follow Amber Nolan’s journey at JetHiking.com, or on the Jet-Hiking Facebook page.