Recreational 'noitering
May the best RV driver win in national battle of the big rigs

Recreational 'noitering
David Feela - 09/28/2023

While swatting gnats in the shade of a tall piñon at New Mexico’s Datil Well Campground, I couldn’t help smiling as a 40-foot luxury motorhome towing a spare vehicle ‘noitered the campground for a parking space. I say ‘noitered because the intentional misspelling of a word has always been an author’s prerogative. Reconnoiter is the proper word, but the girth of his reality did not bode well for finding a suitable berth. ‘Noitering feels more playful, like a television game show. I sat back in my comfortable front row seat. 

After the third trip around the loop, he pulled into a meandering dirt track with thick stands of junipers on both sides. It wasn’t a designated site. 

I’d been keen for some entertainment. When I arrived the previous day, the thermometer displayed 98 degrees in the shade with a “Boil Water” notice on the pump handle. A few other peasant campers had landed since then. One was also paying attention from across the loop, and she smiled toward me as spectators often do. 

I hope nobody takes issue with my suggestion, but America could use an agility competition for the drivers of huge RVs and 5th-wheel trailers. I realize most BLM Forest Service campgrounds already offer sufficient challenges that can refine anyone’s backup skills. The huge rolling motels might be better off in private RV parks, where electricity, sewer and water are available. There happened to be one down the road, though likely not as economical as the Datil fee of $5 per night. 

The small town of Datil is populated by about 50 residents, one gas station with a good cafe and a scattering of tired houses just off Highway 60. I imagine the community could use a boost in tourist revenue by hosting a competitive event like the annual New Mexico ‘Noitering Championship. In fact, every state could host its own qualifying event, sending its best-skilled driver to a national level competition.  

The rules would be simple:

1) Only two classes may compete, motorhomes or 5th-wheels, 40 feet or longer. Vehicles towing an additional vehicle, boat or trailer will get a handicap. 

2) Only the most unsuitable public land campgrounds for parking these large rigs may host an annual qualifying round, and only one event per state.

3) A national championship will include each state’s best backer-upper for the top prize. Speed and agility will be what determines the winner.

Speaking of backing up, the rig that pulled into the meandering dirt track next to me illustrates the complexity of the contest. In this example, the driver could not move forward without dragging the side of his motorhome against the trees, nor backward without jackknifing the flatbed trailer. Harming a tree or detaching a trailer to simplify the task would disqualify the contestant. In this case, the campground host eventually walked over to explain parking was only allowed in designated campground sites, then kindly helped the driver resolve his predicament. Any advice by officials or spectators would be strictly prohibited. In this case, a wife finally emerged from the motorhome but only walked over to a picnic table and held her head in her hands. No penalty would have applied.

Later that evening, just past dusk, another 40 footer – this time a fifth-wheel – circled the loop and stopped in the road, his diesel engine idling, as if considering the open site kitty-corner from mine. I’d been staring at the moon but this spectacle suddenly looked more illuminating. The diver eventually exited his vehicle with a spotlight to inspect a narrow gravel strip, a behavior that would be considered wise and perfectly acceptable during a competition. Parking something this large in the dark ... well, not so wise. Only natural light such as a full moon or fireflies would be acceptable. 

After a half-dozen attempts – false reverses, pulling forward, realigning and trying again – the driver finally managed to park his 5th-wheel in the slot. A half-dozen campers were standing beside the loop road, watching. One lady walked over and I overheard her congratulating the driver.

“Never thought you’d make it!” she exclaimed.

Unfortunately, the front end of his truck still protruded, partially blocking the loop. After a few minutes of low-throated grumbles from an idling diesel engine, he pulled out again and vanished. 

We were all impressed, though I suspect even the most open-minded of us, waving and wishing the driver a good berth, still whispered a titanic prayer like “preferably not anywhere near me.” 

– David Feela

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