Just over a week ago, a friend in my local 99s group, a group of all women pilots started way back by Amelia Earhart, contacted me to ask if I could give a ride to a woman who was hitchhiking to all fifty states in general aviation planes. Louisiana was number nineteen after starting out in Rochester, New York, seven months ago. At first, I thought “What the hell? How is this possible?” But then I realized what a cool concept it was and started to get a little jealous of the adventure she must be having. I immediately wanted to be a part of it, so I was a bit disappointed when my friend told me that a pilot had come into her small airport and said he could give Amber, aka the Jethiking Gypsy, a ride to New Orleans before I’d even left my house to fly there and get her. My friend gave me Amber’s contact info just in case we could hook up in New Orleans.
Of course, I looked up her website first thing ( www.jethiking.com ). Who was this person with this crazy, cool idea? She looked young, I guessed somewhere around my age, and I enjoyed reading her blogs about previous stops. She is a travel writer by trade, and it showed in her stories and in the adventures she would seek out at each stop, always hungry for something noteworthy to write about. I emailed Amber and offered my spare bedroom for her to stay and asked where she was going next so that perhaps I could fly her to her next stop. She emailed right back, taking me up on the offer to stay but said she had a ride to Georgia the next week. Well, damn.
Once we got together, though, picking her up just after she had a shrimp po-boy downtown, she said she would like to get to her next state sooner than next week and would rather fly to Mississippi or Alabama instead of all the way up to Savannah, Georgia, which was her originally-offered flight. As a hitchhiker, I suppose you can’t be too choosy about where you’re going, though I understood her desire to do them consecutively to avoid having to back-track later to states that she’s missed along the way.
In the short time from picking her up to whisking her off to an airport safety meeting that just happened to be going on that night at Lakefront Airport, where I thought she could get in some good networking, we bonded over talking about flying, airplanes, traveling, and men. She was easy to get along with and had great stories about traveling that could entertain me endlessly. I wondered how this “jethiking” experiment would be different if the wanderer were a man. Would people be as amiable as they were with her? Would I have taken a strange man into my house? For my mom’s peace of mind, I’d say probably not. Amber also mentioned that she would like to get her Private Pilot’s license when she finished her trip,
and you know I had something to say about that!
Unfortunately, the weather here in New Orleans had other plans than getting her to her next stop soon. Between low cloud ceilings, then the approaching front with rain on and off for days, then the strong and gusty winds after the front, she was stuck here for a week. Since there are worse places to be stuck, we made the most of it by eating some great New Orleans food, going for an airport tower tour hosted by some of the finest air traffic controllers in the country, attending my flight school’s Aviation Movie Night, enjoying breaks in the rain at my beloved City Park, and visiting a voodoo temple downtown and talking with the priestess. So at least I can safely say that her stay here was a fun-filled one with lots of cool memories she can take with her.
Finally, the weather cooperated and we were able to fly from Lakefront Airport to Jack Edwards Airport in Gulf Shores, Alabama, where she had arranged an interview with the local media. We even went out with a bang from New Orleans! Never a dull moment around my city, we had been cleared for takeoff and were just about to taxi onto the runway when the tower quickly cancelled my takeoff clearance. Wha? Had I done something wrong? “Coyote on the runway,” said the controller. Well, that’s a first for me! The controller called the Air Rescue guys to chase the coyote off the runway, and we departed into smooth, clear air with wonderful visibility.
The flight along the Gulf Coast was beautiful with the barrier islands on our right and the coast and beaches on our left. We also enjoyed a 30 knot tailwind, though I admit I was sad to see our time together coming to an end.
We landed at Gulf Shores and saw the photographer filming the plane as I taxied to the ramp. This poor guy, Brian Kelly, had been extremely patient with our “We’ll be there today!” and a few hours later when the weather turned sour “No we won’t” for days on end. He took pictures of us next to the airplane and of me signing her logbook to document our trip, and then he filmed us talking about the flight and our time together.
Check out the video here: http://videos.al.com/al/2013/02/the_jethiking_gypsy_lands_at_g.html.
Brian Kelly’s full article is here: http://blog.al.com/gulf-coast/2013/02/the_jethiking_gypsy_travel_wri.html
Amber will be in Gulf Shores for just one day and then will ride with the pilot who had offered the trip to Georgia, but since he’ll catch her on his return trip, she’ll be headed back to Biloxi, Mississippi, and plans to hit Arkansas before making her way to Florida in time for the Sun-n-Fun fly-in in April.
I am very proud to say that I was one of only two female pilots she’s ridden with so far. I just hope she gets to ride with many more of us in her next thirty states.
Now a big fan of her as a person and of her project, I’ll be following along with rapt attention. I also hope our paths cross again soon and that I can be of some help when she gets back home and starts taking flying lessons.
So, Mom, sorry for picking up a hitchhiker. We had a blast!