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High-flying hitchhiker makes a stop in Mississippi

hitchhikerNew York native Amber Nolan, 28, is planning on thumbing a ride to all 50 states, but she isn’t doing it in automobiles. She hitchhikes on planes.

Last week, she landed in Gulfport, then flew to Jackson and convinced a local pilot to show her the highlights of the city — like blues night at Hal & Mal’s and eating at Brent’s Drugs. Then, she experienced a view of the reservoir by air before continuing on her journey to Little Rock.

“I had a chance to do some scenic flying over the reservoir at dusk, and the water was like glass,” she said. “It was really beautiful.”

While in town, she also helped promote a Jackson philanthropy called Operation PROP created to “improve the lives of people with disabilities and Wounded Warriors by eliminating both real and perceived barriers that prevent them from achieving goals and living their lives to the fullest.”

“Operation PROP stands for People Reaching Outrageous Potential,” said Flowood resident Linwood Nooe, a pilot since the 1980s who heads the organization and flies a two-seat, single-engine Citabria plane. He took Nolan on her Reservoir flight after seeing her post in a newsletter asking for a ride.

“I just called her up and introduced myself, and she ended up coming to Jackson,” he said. “We spent a couple of days with her and really enjoyed the visit. I took her on a flight of the Jackson metro area over the Reservoir and showed her around.

“The part of what she is doing that I liked the most was the attention she was bringing to general aviation. I think it’s really important that we continue to encourage young people to discover aviation.”

That includes people with challenges.

“With Operation PROP, we want to get people out of the house and introduce them to some activities they may not have even thought about,” he said. “Flying is a great example. That’s what we’re about — challenging people and getting them to do things they might be afraid of.”

Nolan is a good example of being fearless. In July 2012, she embarked on a journey to see the United States by hitchhiking on general aviation — no commercial airlines.

“This includes everything from single-engine Cessnas and Pipers to hot air balloons, seaplanes, vintage airplanes with open cockpits, private jets — you name it,” she said.

She tries to find pilots with trips already planned who don’t mind her tagging along, but she’s found many who just fly for fun.

“It is a hobby for many people, and I find everyone to be very passionate about aviation,” she said. “I have enjoyed the experience so much, I plan on getting my pilot’s license when the trip is finished.”

The Fort Lauderdale resident, who attended college at the State University of New York College at Brockport, has a journalism degree and has freelanced as a travel writer for USA TODAY and Jetsetter.com when she’s not working as a waitress to fund her trips and pay off student loans.

Nolan said she’s always enjoyed adventurous activities, like skydiving in Hawaii and going paragliding in Colombia.

“As a travel writer, my passport is full of stamps, but I haven’t really seen my own country,” she said. “So, I was thinking about planning a trip across the United States, but was unimpressed with the public transportation in our country.

“I thought about airplanes and heard that it was possible to hitch a ride in one. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and started telling my friends and family about my idea. I quit my restaurant job in Fort Lauderdale and decided to focus all my energy into making the project happen.”

Nolan went home to New York to visit her family before she took off, and she started researching and posting online. When a local pilot in her hometown of Rochester contacted her excited about her idea, she was even more inspired to see it take flight.

“He lit a fire under me and helped to get the project ‘off the ground’ — literally,” she said.

Nolan started in Rochester and imagines she’ll end the journey in Hawaii.

“But who knows,” she said. “I am lucky if I know where I will be by next week.”

So far, she’s been on more than 30 flights to 22 states and learned a lot.

“With any solo trip, I hope to have a better understanding of myself, but also a better understanding of my country,” she said. “It’s not a red and blue nation. We are 50 states, but are basically 50 connected countries that still have a lot to learn from each other.”

Nolan said she wants to learn more about the general aviation community and learn to fly.

“The general aviation community is open to sharing their love of flying with others and want others to get involved,” she said. “I hope that it strikes a chord with some people, and they will take a few lessons of their own or show up at a fly-in or barbecue.”

She also hopes to inspire others to pursue their dreams.

“I hope people will stop talking about their ‘somedays’ and follow through on them,” she said. “I hope it helps show that traveling is more than a weekend getaway at an all-inclusive resort, and a slower pace allows a person to really let go and soak in unique experiences and culture of an area.”

She also hopes to illustrate that people, as a whole, want to help each other.

“I am relying on the kindness of strangers,” she said, “and there is nothing scary about that. I feel like we are constantly hearing about a small percentage of people who make us forget that the good people in the world outnumber them by a long shot.”

To learn more about Nolan’s journey, visit JetHiking.com.  To get involved with Operation PROP, visit operationprop.com or call (601) 624-4400.

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