Settled into a comfy lawn chair after 100 miles on his bicycle, Loren Gahnberg leaned back, beer in hand, and sighed.
“Life is good,” he said, exhaling again.
The Everett resident was halfway through the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, but unlike the thousands of riders setting up tents nearby at Centralia College Saturday afternoon, he wouldn’t be spending his night in the Hub City outside. Gahnberg was one of a few lucky riders who found lodging with Rocky and Patsy Poyns, who make a habit each year of hosting weary STPers.
The Poyns are avid cyclists themselves, having completed STP eight times. But for the past 13 years, they’ve turned their house — one block from the halfway banner at the college — into a welcome party for riders. As bikers cruised by the lawn Saturday, the couple cheered them on, urging them to ride through the mister they’d set up by the curb.
Most riders accepted the invitation, pedaling slowly through the cool spray of water.
“I feel reborn!” one shouted.
For the Poyns, hosting and refreshing riders is a way to give back, after all the generosity they’ve received as riders themselves.
“Once we stopped riding, we started hosting,” Patsy said.
Added Rocky: “It’s kind of payback. A lot of people did a lot of good things for us.”
Gahnberg’s ride was the fourth time he’s participated in STP, and he’s stayed with a local host family each time. The Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce helps connect area hosts with riders looking for a place to stay. The Poyns usually host four or five of those riders each year, sometimes old friends from previous rides.
“It's just wonderful getting to know the folks and all this wonderful hospitality,” Gahnberg said. “I wouldn't do it any other way — hot shower, good food, comfortable bed. The shower after 100 miles is just, ahhh.”
With the Poyns, Gahnberg found himself enjoying home-brewed beer, and his eyes lit up when his hosts described the feast of lasagna that would be served later in the evening.
“It was a really lucky pick to get this spot, I'll tell ya,” he said.
Hosting, Patsy said, is less of a chore than a privilege. It affords the couple a chance to get to know a new group of people each year.
“We enjoy visiting — we have met so many great people,” she said. “It's been awesome.”
Rocky noted that most Centralia residents either love STP for its festive atmosphere and boost to local businesses or hate it for the influx of bicycle traffic. No one has to guess which side the Poyns are on.
“We love it!” he said.
Every year on the Saturday of STP, the Poyns can be found in their front yard, shouting “welcome to Centralia!” as bikers ride through their mister. Those lucky enough to draw them as hosts will get a warm welcome — and plenty to eat and drink. That involvement has led to many memories, like the unicyclist who slept in the lawn.
For Gahnberg, getting to know different communities and their residents is part of what makes STP special.
“Getting out of your normal routes, seeing the sights, hitting the country roads, visiting other towns — every foot you travel is something new,” he said.