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Postcards from The Trailer Park

Postcards From The Trailer Park. Cameron Burns. New York: The Lyons Press. 2004. Paperback. 279 pages.

When I received Cameron Burns’ book for review, I thought, “Piece of cake. It’s 30+ short articles/stories/vignettes/essays about climbing. I can read a half-dozen, dash off 200 words, and I’m done.” Well, Postcards From The Trailer Park is like that potato-chip ditty: “Bet you can’t read [or eat] just one.” I actually read the whole damn thing. PFTTP hasn’t been off my nightstand in the two weeks since I got it.

While many of the essays are about the trips Burns has done and the people he’s done them with, he is much more than an observer of the climber animal. He is a connoisseur of humanity and of his own surroundings. His descriptions of his surroundings, the recounting of conversations, and the ever-present exaggerations add up to very enjoyable reading.

Two of my favorites are his portraits of Fred Beckey and Warren Harding. Though completely different, both are presented with clarity, humor, and, yes, affection. “The Unbearable Greatness of Fred,” is divided into two sections. The first, a scathing account of a '91 trip to Mexico with Beckey, presents a view unlike what those of us who have never met the man would have imagined. That said, in spite of a critical look at Beckey’s personality, Burns’s appreciation for Beckey’s accomplishments is clear. The postscript, written three years later, after they became reacquainted and following several subsequent trips, ties things together in a way that resolves the bad taste from the Mexico trip. Here are two excerpts, the first from the third paragraph, the second from the last:

“Fed up with Mexican service, Fred Beckey stands up, grunts, farts, and heads for the door. Taken aback, Mike and I stare at each other. Beckey, a personal hero for both of us, is proving anything but a hero.”

And,“...certainly, during these half-dozen or so other climbing trips, we didn’t do a lot of climbing. But I’m incredibly glad I went with him. He is a genuinely great guy, and he deserves a prominent position in every climber’s pantheon.”

That's the tip of the iceberg. There are stories about climbing Aconcagua with a “hideous blue and yellow” $45 Wal-Mart Wilderness Trails tent, “hoopsticking” desert towers in New Mexico, his first outdoor climbing trip with his then-fiancé (now wife) Ann, a hilarious account of a '93 ascent of El Cap, and the ultimate tick story, “Ticking a Few Routes in Montana.” Just when you think you can’t laugh any more, he hits you with another line that lays you out. Example:

“Tell ’em I watched a dozen ticks crawl up your shorts while you were climbing,” my wife pipes up as I poke the keyboard. “Remember those nasty, tiny Coq Sportif shorts you had? Oooooh. Dunno what was worse: the shorts or the ticks...”

My wife is glad I finished this book. I kept waking her up at 1 a.m. laughing. Burns reminds me of my favorite partners. No matter what happens, they manage to find humor in everything. Guys like that make climbing trips a lot more fun, and life on the edge more bearable.

Al Hospers