Some time at around the end of last term, my daughter came home from school saying that she had formed a team with three friends to enter the Hog Charge. This is a mini Rhino Charge for kids that they do on bikes. It comprises a three hour off road bicycling competition, with lots of manned check-points and rough/muddy bits in between. The aim is to raise money for the Rhino Ark Trust, conservation of the Aberdare Rain Forest and this event is staged by one of the Rhino Charge teams as their car's fund raising effort.
When our daughter first came home with the Hog Charge idea I thought OMG , she's gonna hate it. My eldest daughter is the one that didn't get around to learning to ride a bike until she was 7 and hated every moment of learning. Exasperated parents, we pushed and pushed her to learn using all sorts of bribery and tricks at our disposal.
'If you cycle to the gate and back five times then I'll give you a marshmallow' 'four' she would say. There would be a bit of negotiation then 'alright,' would be the reluctant reply.
I was never very sporty as a child, so have to admit that she's a bit of a chip off the old block, however, I had the sinking feeling that this time she was blissfully unaware of what she was letting herself in for. The words 'character building' were ringing loudly in my head and stopped me from saying anything.
For my daughter, up until this weekend, entering the Hog Charge was all about forming a team with her 3 best mates, thinking up a funny name for the team, getting t-shirts made, deciding what to wear etc.
Last term one of her team mate friends said, 'does your bike have gears?' 'No' said my daughter - without revealing also that her bike was also pink, called 'Daisy' and came with purple sparkly streamers when it was new. 'Well never mind' her friend said, 'only three of us have to finish the course anyway.'
When my daughter reported this conversation to us, her parents, her fate was sealed. I rushed out to buy her a mountain bike that was then to become her 'main' Christmas present - a great result for me as I wasn't sure what I was going to give her other than some clothes I bought in UK last summer. Not quite such fun for her though.
Revealing the bike on Christmas day was a bit of a damp squib. My eldest tried to say thanks tactfully, but you could see in her face that this was her idea of the worst present ever. To add to the moment, our middle 'tomboy' daughter said, 'Does it have gears?!?!' when she saw the smart black bike - eyes like saucers. 'Yes' our eldest said trying to hide her dejected mood. 'Ohhhhh-aw' said the middle on - plainly envious.
The first foray into the garden on the new black bike (a little too big to add to the problem), ended in tears.
I since learned that the kids bike shop that I visited sold out of mountain bikes, x120 in one week. 400 children took part in the Hog Charge.
Yesterday our four little 'Rough Road Riders' learned the true meaning of the word 'team'. (yes, I know, I know, we tried desperately to get them to change the name but what can you do - at least they weren't the 'bugs on drugs' or 'swine flew'!!!!).
The Rough Road Riders learned that the term 'team' does not mean bunch of mates having fun, in fact it means waiting endlessly for the slow one, encouraging the one who dissolves into tears, telling each other not to give up - that it will be worth it in the end and resist the temptation to shoot on ahead, or get grouchy, tetchy, bickering and mean - particularly when discussing directions. To be fair they all had their low moments during the contest, but toward the end, my daughter's seemed to last the longest. Anything I said made the tears worse. It was best to keep out of the way and let my husband take over.
My husband and two other dad's (the fourth had a broken leg so couldn't help) cycled along behind our nine year olds shouting encouragement almost all the way (this was apparently accepted protocol by the organisers). The 'tomboy' middle one followed along for fun on the Daisy bike, rather irritatingly overtaking her older sister on a regular basis. At one point my husband pushed our eldest daughter up a very steep hill, his hand pressing on her back as she rode. I'm not sure if that was cheating.
'Your team are looking like they are all over the place!' A friend shouted from her shiny VX, peeping at us through clouds of dust. 'Three are ahead, and one is lagging miles behind.' I winced inwardly but covered it with a smile and a wave.
In the end the 'Rough Road Riders' finished all of their checkpoints and recovered from their ordeal miraculously fast over a huge picnic under a shady tree. By afternoon the sun was raging down and burning all of us to a crisp, but it was a great event, centred around the kids, and for once without TOO much focus on winning a prize. It's the taking part that counts - that sort of thing.