Could a Universal Basic Income (UBI) push climbing standards to a new level?
A weird question. I’ve had loads of time to think into the dark corners of my mind in the last few weeks; thoughts of NYC populated by ghosts, the US failing and failed, of Spain and Italy hollowed out of love and laughter, of an isolated UK now even more so, of a tide that is threatening to crash here but the hope that it does not. But I also think about climbing.
The standard romantic view of climbing’s past includes thinking that the dole was good for climbing. In both the U.K. and Australia in the ‘80s the climbing level was propelled forward because climbers were able to live supported by the state. The idea is that climbers – ratbags and recalcitrants – dropped out of the mainstream and instead lived at society’s margins in a counterculture that subsisted on an easy-to-get welfare payment. They were beholden to no one, climbed full time and got way better at climbing.
Could the JobKeeper do something similar?
At the minute in Oz we are a little removed from the absolute chaos that is happening in other countries, but people are getting sick, people are dying. We don’t know if it is going to get worse before it gets better, and we don’t know when it is going to end.
Governments all around the world are scrambling to not only deal with the medical emergency posed by COVID-19 but they are also trying to prop up hearts and minds – and economies.
The shit governments – like the Good Ol’ US of A – are making their states bid against each other in a macabre market for PPE so that health workers can do their jobs without dying. The better governments are rolling out massive stimulatory and stabilising payments to their people to keep both individuals and society alive.
The Oz government has been dragged kicking and screaming to promising six months of paying workers $1500 a fortnight. Whilst the reason it is happening is appalling, a large whack of the Australian workforce is about to get six months of UBI to try to keep the economy and society on life-support. (Obviously this isn’t a true experiment with a UBI, the economy has been shutdown by decree, but it is possible to draw some equivalence.) It doesn’t cover all workers, some people will be left behind but it is mind-blowing that this conservative government is giving people money and making childcare free.
When I have not been sinking into desperate thoughts of pain and societal collapse, the fifteen-hunge got me to thinking about if there is any good that could come for climbers.
Proponents of UBI often cite that one of the benefits is that individuals are freed to use their time creatively and so it follows that there could be some climbing creativity as a result of the JobKeeper.
Climbing is no longer counter-culture and full-time training is not as romantic as full-time climbing, but it’s possible that climbers who are getting the $1500, who don’t have a huge amount to do in a job they are trying to do from home, who stay healthy and sane, will weirdly have the chance to get on a pro-athlete timetable.
There is no shame in using the lockdown to learn new things, to teach yourself something, to get better, to think about what you want to do with your singular life, nor is it wrong to train. Silver line-ism can be crude but really it is simply a case of re-framing.
A few months ago a friend of mine who is a trail runner quit her job in Melbourne and had a few months before she was starting her new gig in Sydney, with not much to do we joked that she was on a pro-athlete timetable. And she trained like she was, right up until she got injured that is. The lesson is by all means train, but be smart. Pro-athlete schedule does not mean pro-athlete intensity. You can’t go from couch-slob to Ondra in a day. If your training volume dial is usually on 4 don’t crank it way up to 12 to make up for all the climbing that you are not doing or just because you have the time. Be careful, better yet get someone else to be careful for you – get a coach (Hello our man Duncan Brown and Friend-of-Ours Lee Cossey).
The #prolyfe could be quite sweet. Split sessions, one in the morning and then another in the arvo of the same day; finger extensions with a theraband , Armaid self-massage and mobility at night in front of the tele; good food because we are all cooking at home; good rest if you can turn your worrying brain off at night and actually get some sleep.
It is possible to imagine how many climbers could get very strong and fix their weak spots and work on the things that they always mean to but never get around to, and slingshot out the other side as way better climbers.
The tricky part will likely be motivation, and it will get more tricky as time goes on.
I did a training the other day. Pull a little, push a little, flop a lot. But I couldn’t help but ask what did I do it for?
To be honest I really want to be psyched right now, I want to want it, but reflecting on the idea of training through the pandemic made me think about this scene from the Simpsons and about how Principal Skinner survived being trapped under a fallen heap of newspapers.
I was boning down on the hangboard and I felt like Principal Skinner, as if I were seeing how many times I could bounce the ball in a day, then trying to break that record.
Climbers are often objective focussed, I want to climb problem X and therefore I am going to train in this way for this long and then take that sucker down. But what is the point now? To put it as clearly as I can, if a tree trains in the woods and no one is around to send the route, did it really ever happen?
Usually the objective is easy to find – try your project this weekend, be fit for your big Spring trip, peak for the comp, but that shit is all out the window of isolation. If you are lucky, you are an introvert who adores training for training’s sake and so your objective is simply to train. Congrats mate.
For the rest of us, dredging up the motivation for our usual kind of training let alone our new #prolyfe timetable could be a bit of a task. Try scheduling, locking in times rather than flying by the seat of your pants could increase your commitment. Equally, Skype hangboard dates with your mates will hold you to account. A coach yelling at you is always good motivation (not to mention the impetus you get from knowing you are paying for someone’s advice). In that way splitting your sessions up pro-athlete style could help to keep you fresh and driven.
Keep your eyes on the big-route-prize that still sits out there on the horizon – your dream goal, but set short-term finger-strength goals, push-ups, pull-ups, hip mobility, toe-power goals, see how many times you can bounce the ball in a day, then try to break that record.
Use what you have to keep your mind and body fit and healthy. Training in the lockdown is probably not going to be about perfection, it is about making do, making do with what you have by way of equipment and motivation and time. Put up posters, watch climbing vids, talk to your mates about trips you’re going to take together.
Climbing training is no panacea to the pandemic, but know that simply moving, using your body and reminding yourself of the things that you love and value will provide you with some motivation. And even if you maintain big climbing objectives that the No.1 objective must be to come out the other side of this pandemic healthy and fit and sane.
It is also important that you listen to your body and your emotions. At the minute you might want to train like a monster and embrace the pro-athlete timetable, but in a few weeks if the pandemic deteriorates then it’s okay if you don’t want to train. Part of the balancing act is going to be balancing enthusiasm with despair, it is going to be tricky to stay motivated and not fall into the doldrums. Training may be a beautiful meditative respite from the horrors of the world, but equally it might be something that you can’t stomach and that is okay.
Lots of people are trying to help you to do a training right now. The Instagrammers and their circus tricks, ProClimbers with nothing to do now that they can’t pro-climb, YouTubers ‘Hey guys don’t forget to hit like and subscribe!’, training app providers, book-seller folk, podcast-doers, mag editors (maybe we will come up with imaginary climbing destinations that people can project themselves into from the comfort of their loungerooms).
If you need some how-tos and whys from some of Oz best trainers and climbers, then listen to Amanda Watts and Tom ‘The Pirate’ O’Halloran speaking with Lee Cossey on the Baffle Days podcast – they lay it out so even idiots like me can get it. You don’t need much equipment but you do need some motivation.
A UBI could make you a much better climber, but whatever you do, stay safe out there, stay sanitary and stay sane.