Saturday afternoon, thousands of cyclists will cross into Lewis County and come rolling down the streets of Centralia — a near-endless line of two-wheeled travelers on their way to Portland.
The annual Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic draws 8,000 riders who attempt to pedal more than 200 miles over the course of a weekend. As the event’s halfway point, the Twin Cities play host to many of the riders who stay over Saturday night, before arising early Sunday to finish their journey.
Centralia College has long been the centerpiece of the area’s STP hospitality, and it’s ready to bring in thousands more riders yet again.
“It’s a huge event. It’s probably the biggest event we sponsor every year,” said Centralia College president Robert Morhbacher. “There’s planning that goes on pretty much all year. … We’ll start setting up for that Thursday, and everything will be ready to go Friday. By Sunday afternoon, everything is torn down again and you can’t tell that those thousands of people were here.”
Many riders will camp out on the campus green space, where there will also be a beer garden and plenty of food vendors. Live music will add to the atmosphere. Mohrbacher said the college’s ability to host such a premier event is a rare asset in a community of this size.
“It’s not real common. Colleges in larger cities host or participate in some larger events, but particularly here in Centralia, it’s definitely a unique opportunity,” he said. “Besides all the people who stay here on campus, hotels are full and restaurants are busy. We hope it’s not just one weekend in July, but we hope a lot of folks get the idea to come back.”
The college isn’t the only entity making ready for the influx of Lycra-clad visitors. The city of Centralia is preparing its streets for the route cyclists will take to and from the college. Over the years, city crews have gotten STP prep down to a science, said Public Works director Kim Ashmore.
“We keep good notes,” he said. “Our prep starts Wednesday and Thursday with getting barricades out, sweeping the shoulders of the roads and gearing up for Saturday morning. … We’re ready to go.”
Tuesday, the Centralia Police Department posted a reminder on Facebook for motorists to prepare for the event. Drivers were notified that there will be detours around the college, and they should be prepared to follow safe driving practices when sharing the road with cyclists.
A release put out by the Washington State Department of Transportation added that travelers should expect delays when attempting to travel near the STP route. The most congestion in Thursday and Lewis Counties is expected mid-morning and afternoon on Saturday.