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Thousands of tents filled up East Park in Mason City Wednesday afternoon.

MASON CITY | Many countries are represented among RAGBRAI riders.

Hanging out in East Park on Wednesday afternoon was a group of cyclists from England and Australia, including 8-year-old Camilla Seketa of Australia. It was her first RAGBRAI and first time in the United States.

“It’s fun,” she said.

Camilla Seketa has been riding on a tandem bike with her father, Stefan, but admitted the ride is still sometimes hard.

The adults in the group all have ties to each other, with one having a U.S. connection. That’s how they learned about RAGBRAI, said Trevor Robinson of England. 

Stefan Seketa said a pork chop from Mr. Pork Chop is always a highlight, along with ice cream and pie — cherry pie to be specific.

“We don’t get cherry pie at home,” he said.

Also unusual to them are the rumble strips on Iowa’s roads and the people’s friendliness.

“The people are the salt of the Earth,” said David Potts of England. “Iowans are the salt of the Earth.”

It was Potts' seventh RAGBRAI and third for his son, Jack, and first for his other son, Pierre.

“We’ll keep coming,” he said. “You can take them to Disneyland and get the mementos and pictures, but you take them on RAGBRAI and they’ll remember it all their lives.”

David Whittingham, Chicago, has been wanting to do RAGBRAI for years. He finally made a deal with himself that if he lost 50 pounds he’d do it. He succeeded in his weight loss goal last summer and fall.

“This is a reward for doing it,” he said.

Whittingham said he was glad he made the trip and hopes to convince his 8-year-old son to go with next time.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s great.”

The Mason City Aquatic Center was a popular destination for RAGBRAI riders on Wednesday after the longest leg of the route on Tuesday and hot and humid weather Monday and Tuesday.

“We stopped just to cool off, relax and move muscles in different ways,” said Moni Franks of Grand Haven, Michigan.

Franks was participating in her first RAGBRAI with her husband, Tom, who was riding in his fourth.

“I turned 60 this year, so I decided I wanted to see if I still have it,” Moni said. “I don’t know what ‘it’ is but I’ll know it when I find it.”

Franks said the ride has been “a blast” so far but tested her physically. She spoke about how she cheered when she made it up a final hill in Forest City on Tuesday.

“I was so proud of her,” Tom Franks said.

“It’s a very cool accomplishment,” Moni said.

The couple was part of team First Priority, which also included Randy and Jannine White of Grand Haven, Michigan, and Valerie Ruff of Carmel, Indiana. The three of them were enjoying nachos at the Mason City Aquatic Center early Wednesday afternoon.

“Iowa has the best pools and aquatic centers in the nation,” Randy White said.

They said they’ve been looking for a pool or aquatic center near where they’re camping since the start of the ride.

“There’s something different about sitting in the pool and then you start talking to people from different places,” Ruff said, noting that the Mason City Aquatic Center is the best she’s seen.

All three of them said the ride has been great so far.

“It was beautiful,” Jannine White said about Wednesday’s ride.

“Beautiful wildflowers along the road as we came in,” Randy White added.

Also at the aquatic center was Belinda Barr, Byron, Illinois, said she’s heard about RAGBRAI from friends over the years and was finally able to go this year. However, her friends couldn’t make it leaving her to make the trek by herself. However, with over 20,000 people on the ride, she’s had plenty of people to talk to.

“I’ve met a lot of people,” she said. “A lot of local people and riders.

“You’ve got a beautiful town here,” Barr added about Mason City. “I love the bear (sculpture downtown). I hugged the bear and got my picture taken with it.”

Mike Diel, Kansas City, Missouri, was a first-timer, too. He decided to ride RAGBRAI after his father, Ron Diel, of the Chicago area, rode for the first time last year.

“If the old man can do it, he can’t show me up,” Mike said, smiling at Ron.

However, Ron was quick to point out he did the extra loop for a total of 108 miles on Tuesday, while Mike did not.

The father and son and their friend Steve Ulrey, of the Chicago area, all were camping in East Park and planned to explore more of Mason City.

Friends Darin Mohr, Atlanta, Georgia, and Scott Kreider and Brian Meiers, both of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had already explored some of Mason City by early afternoon and liked what they saw.

“Mason City has been fantastic so far,” said Meiers noting that they really liked Mason City Brewing and planned to return to it later.

They said everyone has been friendly and that’s what they like about RAGBRAI.

“So far Mason City has been the best city on the route this year,” Kreider said.

Tom Svagera, Omaha, had similar thoughts about Mason City.

“This has been my favorite town so far,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “We got free pudding and free water.”

“Very welcoming,” added his wife, Lori.

While the couple was staying at a local church, they were visiting new friends who were camping in East Park.

“He tripped over my tent stake in Rock Valley and I had to get him a Band-Aid,” Tom Svagera said, referring to Jerry Robinson, who was on the ride with his wife, Mary Ann.

The couple is from Overland Park, Kansas, and was part of a sea of thousands of different colored tents in East Park.

“We’ve got some trees — that’s good,” Mary Ann Robinson said.

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