Product Review: Rubber Bitch

BigBendNatandKevin 032

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.

dll758This 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.

BigBendNatandKevin 031

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.

The Big Agnes is a awesome.  Very comfortable, and–best of all–it packs amazingly small, about half the size of the Therma-damn-Rest.BigBendNatandKevin 003

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.

BigBendNatandKevin 026

2 thoughts on “Product Review: Rubber Bitch

  1. The first time I was going to camp with Rob on the Colorado Trail, I went home instead because I was too exhausted for another day of hiking – after nearly dying on Georgia Pass. This gave me a chance to actually set up my new Big Agnes tent the following weekend at home. It was missing all the poles, which REI later rectified for me. Dodged a bullet.

    • Ed, good God, I feel so much better. I came away from our Grays and Torreys trip feeling not worthy of accompanying you two, so hearing that that bastard Graham made you want to go home rather than submit to another day makes me feel much better about myself, particularly seeing how easily you handled Grays and Torreys and its “march or die” aftermath. I’ve been seriously training for future trips, determined not to be the weak link in whatever survival situation Rob might put us in. In fact, I was just sitting down to figure out how much mileage we did during that trip, so that I have a benchmark for comparison. My recent Big Bend trip was not as physically demanding as I’d planned due to family considerations (emotionally demanding is something altogether different), so I’m heading back to Guadalupe Mountains next month before I have to figure out what precisely Graham has in mind for New Mexico. So far, all he’s said is something along the lines of “why don’t we start near Silver City, and work our way up toward Pie Town,” which sounds reasonable–until you make a quick Google Earth check and realize that those two points are separated by 150-200 miles. As you can see, I’ve learned that mental preparation and anticipating the unexpected for a Rob Graham backpacking production is at least as important as the physical.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s