Portland ’10: The Drive Down

Or: The Search for the Mythical Tenino. Onward!

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So, on Saturday at 11:45, Dana and I departed from North Seattle for Portland. This drive can be accomplished in three hours, and we could check into the hotel starting at 2:00, so leaving at noon-ish was perfect. We were going down to see Christian Kane (he’s an actor in the TV show Leverage and sings country rock – not usually my thing, but he’s my second favourite in Leverage and I love concerts) and the idea was that we were going to get to Portland mid-afternoon, hang out in Powell’s, get something to eat, and go to the concert. This isn’t quite how it went down, but what did go down was epic.

First, when we got more or less into Thurston county (where the state capital is) we decided that it was time to find food. So we picked an off-ramp and got off the freeway, following a Food sign. Well, clearly we went the wrong way when we got off because we did not find food. What we did find was a lot of nothing. And, apparently, Tumwater.

No food in sight.

So we drove around for awhile, saw a sign directing us to Tenino (this will become a theme), found a little league baseball game (“Do not hit the children – it’s a guideline I live by” said Dana), went down a road past some industrial buildings, and finally got back on I-5 south because Tenino did not appear. Now, this is the point where most people would decide to wait until they found a place they more or less knew, but we are not most people and opted instead to just take the next off-ramp and wing it. Because, as we put it at the time, what could possibly go wrong?

Clearly, wed made the right choice

The next off-ramp informed us that we were headed for Tenino. Still. I knew we were on our way to a booming metropolis when the sign to the left of your screen greeted us as we exited the freeway. We looked to the right, in the direction of the sign, but it didn’t look remotely promising (unless you like truck stops), so we went left instead, past a sign that informed us that, yes, Tenino was down that road. Great, thought us, Tenino will have some sort of cheap food. I mean, it must be a city of some sort if all these signs keep informing us of its proximity… right?

Well, we didn’t find Tenino. What we did find was a two-lane road in the middle of freaking nowhere.

We never even found the wolf haven

We drove around there for awhile (again) and, yeah, Tenino never appeared. We also never saw another sign for it, so apparently the state of Washington (or whoever else is in charge of misleading signs in Thurston County) just likes to mess with people. Oh, you want a town? Well, too bad, you get countryside.  But we did find an invisible corn maze!

Cue the banjo any time

But we got back on the freeway heading south and decided that, rather than be defeated by Thurston County, we’d just try again. It may not have been going particularly well in terms of, you know, finding something to eat, but I was amassing a fab collection of photos from Middle of Nowhere, Washington. And we weren’t actually in a hurry, so continuing the adventure seemed like the best possible course of action. But we didn’t take the next off-ramp because the next off-ramp looked like this:

Yeah, no.

Instead, we took the off-ramp after that, which again had a Food sign informing us that a Subway was that direction. As, somehow, was Tenino. Yes, for the third time. But we didn’t believe them because clearly Tenino does not really exist and cannot be found by weary travelers. But we did get off the freeway and head off down the road towards Subway. About 5 miles away, long past any place that might be considered “town,” we were beginning to doubt the existence of this Subway. But then we found it.


It looks like it was built in someone’s back shed, but by then we didn’t care because it was food. A sign of civilization. It was also next to a store called Mason Dixon Line (very, very far from the real Mason Dixon Line) and down the street from a big sign advertising “Wild West Guns.” Please, feel free to get those banjos out at any time.

But we did finally get back on our way to Portland and all was well! Except for the fact that two exists later was this massive outlet mall with a ton of stuff around it, all visible from the freeway. But that would have been easy and much less exciting. I prefer our version. It did result in a 4.5 hour drive, but that was totally okay because, after taking a wrong turn in Portland, but eventually getting across the Burnside Bridge to E Burnside where we needed to be, we found our hotel.

This hotel

I promise, it wasn’t as sketch as it looks, and it was pretty cheap considering how convenient it was. And the room was actually pretty nice. But we definitely laughed when we pulled in. It just felt like nothing could have been more perfect after our drive down.

This was not the end of our adventures for the weekend, not by a long shot, but I’ll be back later with parts two and three. Things were pretty eventful already, but it definitely got more epic a little later on. Next up: the concert, followed by the somewhat dramatic sub-plot that developed Saturday evening. Normally, a trip that took all of 28 hours wouldn’t require three separate blog posts, but that’s just how Dana and I roll. It was awesome.


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