In this study, the governing equation of motion for a general arbitrary higher-order theory of rods and tubes is presented for a general material response. The impetus for the study, in contrast to the classical Cosserat rod theories, comes from the need to study bulging and other deformation of tubes (such as arterial walls). While Cosserat rods are useful for rods whose centerline motion is of primary focus, here we consider cases where the lateral boundaries also undergo significant deformation. To tackle these problems, a generalized curvilinear cylindrical coordinate (CCC) system is introduced in the reference configuration of the rod. Furthermore, we show that this results in a new generalized frame that contains the well-known orthonormal moving frames of Frenet and Bishop (a hybrid frame) as special cases. Such a coordinate system can continuously map the geometry of any general curved three-dimensional (3D) structure with a reference curve (including general closed curves) having continuous tangent, and hence, the present formulation can be used for analyzing any general rod or pipe-like 3D structures with variable cross section (e.g., artery or vein). A key feature of the approach presented herein is that we utilize a non-coordinate Cartan moving frame or orthonormal basis vectors, to obtain the kinematic quantities, like displacement gradient, using the tools of exterior calculus. This dramatically simplifies the calculations. By the way of this paper, we also seek to highlight the elegance of the exterior calculus as a means for obtaining the various kinematic relations in terms of orthonormal bases and to advocate for its wider use in the applied mechanics community. Finally, the displacement field of the cross section of the structure is approximated by general basis functions in the polar coordinates in the normal plane which enables this rod theory to analyze the response to any general loading condition applied to the curved structure. The governing equation is obtained using the virtual work principle for a general material response, and presented in terms of generalized displacement variables and generalized moments over the cross section of the 3D structure. This results in a system of ordinary differential equations for quantities that are integrated across the cross section (as is to be expected for any rod theory).