I own a really nice tent, so we’re not going to talk about how I ended up without a tent in Big Bend this week. This rainy, cold week. With gale force winds. All night long.
But I’d love to talk about how happy I was to improvise my little shelter-half out of a poncho–happy, not because it kept me dry (it did, sort of), but because of the flood of memories it brought back.
Somewhere back in 1978-79, I was stationed on Okinawa in a Marine infantry company, and sort of the point in being in the infantry is that you’re going to spend a lot of time sleeping on the ground. I realized early that as much as I enjoyed playing in the dirt, I really liked going home and getting clean at the end of the day, which is not how things worked out most of the time.
This is a picture of Flores. I lived in that little tent with Flores for a solid month, and I never knew his first name. He was Corporal Flores to me. Flores had served with the Army in Vietnam, fought in the A Shau Valley, and why he got out and then enlisted in the Corps, he never said. Found something he needed, I suppose; being that old and experienced and still a Corporal probably explains a lot. He was a really good man. Anyway, that tent is composed of two joined “shelter-halves.” Each Marine carried his own shelter-half, which he could stretch out like a tarp, or join to another Marine’s half and make a tent. This photo was taken during the month we spent up in the Northern Training Area, and at that point I was the company radioman, which kept me separated from the rifle platoons. Flores–I don’t even remember why Flores was up there, because he was a supply guy, but I do remember that he was the guy burning the shit. If you’ve never smelled shit burning in diesel, you’ve really missed out on an experience. Even on Okinawa, they grabbed the Mexican to burn the shit.
Improvise–Adapt–Overcome. There’s so much of the Corps that you will never get out of your system. Improvising that little lean-to out of my 99 cent poncho made me feel like I was getting ready for a slumber party that I knew was going to turn bad–there was no way that was going to keep me dry, but I wasn’t willing to admit I was screwed. But once I managed to weigh down the bottom with enough rocks to withstand the wind, and wrapped my feet sticking out the end in a trash bag, it did ok. I woke up the first morning, sure I was somehow buried under storm rubble when I opened my eyes to a greenish darkness and felt only something cold and wet. Turned out I was just shoved right up under the bottom edge, which was a relief until I scooted out a bit and hit the poncho’s hood hanging down, which had filled with water during the night and instantly emptied on my once-dry crotch.
You’ll notice another piece of equipment, my Big Agnes mattress. I already own a Therma-Rest “Self-Inflating” mattress, but I wasn’t particularly happy with it–wait, that’s not honest: I HATE THERMA-REST. “Self-Inflating” means it inflates itself, but even after blowing my lungs out into it, it still feels like sleeping on layered cardboard. I hesitated to buy the Big Agnes, because it looks so much like another piece of Marine Infantry gear, the Rubber Bitch. Somehow, Flores and I each had our Rubber Bitches in that little tent, and the rubber smell of that thing lingers almost as thoroughly as diesel-burned shit.
Well, there’s lots of other things I could review about this trip, which is probably my last to Big Bend for a while even though I discovered a whole new aspect to the Park which will definitely make it worth visiting again, but I’ll save that for later. Happy Trails.