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                   Thursday, February 10, 2011 - 11:20AM CST

Westward bound in 2001 - start of a new era

By DAN ROBINSON
Editor/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Observing
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This photo is one of my favorites - it evokes some great memories. This is the afternoon of May 26, 2001. I was westbound on I-64 toward the Great Plains, seeing the Midwest for the first time. This first crossing of the Indiana state line here in the Louisville metro was ushering in a new era. Up until that point, Kentucky and Ohio had been the farthest-west states I had ever traveled (aside from a California trip by air as a very young child), and this was the first major trip I had ever undertaken solo. This photo shows what I consider to be the true 'finer things in life': green trees, blue sky, warm spring air and the freedom of a road trip. I have, and will always, value this type of experience over any other earthly possessions or luxuries.

May 2001 - first trip west
click to enlarge

Later that evening, I rolled into St. Louis for the first time, stopping for about 20 minutes to grab a couple of photos of the Arch before resuming the journey west. The next day, my first chase on the Plains would be a big one - the derecho of May 27 in southwest Kansas/northwest Oklahoma.

Some of the great memories of that trip include how weather expeditioning used to be. I was on the way to the Plains mainly for lightning photography, which back then was (and still is even today) my primary focus of observing. I was in my (then-new) Ford Ranger pickup, with only a small suitcase of clothes, a few rolls of Sensia 100 film, a paper USA road atlas, a primitive digital camera, an all-manual Pentax K-1000 SLR and a VHS-C video camera.

I used to carry all of the camera gear in a small cooler, so I traveled pretty light - not much clutter. No laptop, no GPS, no internet, no inverter power, no Jotto desk, no permanently-installed vehicle gear. Glass-bottled Cokes, iced tea and beef jerky were a staple of roadside stops, and Steven Curtis Chapman's 'Speechless' album was in the CD player (my all-time favorite). And even though I didn't see a tornado on those first expeditions, I consider them as some of my best observing trips of all time.

9 years later, I would be picking up and moving everything I owned on this same road to relocate to the St. Louis area, a testament to how much this highway and the country surrounding it grew on me in fondness over the years. I have to say I am very thankful to have been blessed with the ability to make these first trips which led where I am today.

By the way, the expedition log for this trip can be found here.

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The following comments were posted before this site switched to a new comment system on August 27, 2016:

Neat story Dan! i remember my first road trip. I liked being out there so m uch, I now drive for a living! :)
- Posted by Michael Thompson from minnesocold
Thanks Michael! What type of driving do you do? I'd definitely like some type of job that involved traveling all the time.
- Posted by Dan R. from New Baden, IL
I am a courier subcontractor. mainly i am in minnesota, but sometimes I end up in iowa, wisconsin, or the dakotas. i love it when I am dispatched into the country! I do love city running too, though it can be dangerous! I see lots of nice scenery while out and about, I have a blog of a lot of the pictures I take on the road too. i do get to see some nice storms toowhile working. Now that I got a decent camera and tripod I hope to get some neat pics. Once last summer while working minneapolis, a huge supercell formed just 25 miles south. I could see it rising up and talk of tornadoes was on the radio. I was wishing I could get closer, even though I didnt have a camera, I would like to have seen it, I never seen a tornado before except on TV. well, my dispatcher had me grab a package, and I checked the destination and it was lakevill, right where the storm was going to blow! I headed towards the storm... er delievery :) on I35, but then I got diverted to bloomington to get another package in bloomington going to lakeville. That took me ten minutes, then off to lakeville. wouldn't you know it, there was a tornado, but I missed it by ten minutes lol!
- Posted by Michael Thompson from minnesocold
Sounds like a cool job. I wouldn't mind doing something like that part-time.
- Posted by Dan R. from New Baden, IL
yeah it is pretty cool. I put in 10-11 hours 5 days a week, and time really goes quick. the only think I don't like is too many vehicle repairs needed haha
- Posted by Michael Thompson

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