From the very first mile, we were climbing. The morning’s stormy rain clouds had dissolved, leaving the hot sun to bake us in their wake. Steam rose from the tarmac, frying my still-winter-pale skin.

“I figure it’s either going to be a downpour or a sauna,” said Matt Kearns, Public Lands Specialist from the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. He inched past on his old-school touring bike. Its frame groaned under the weight of three loaded panniers. I could hear Matt’s labored breathing, could see the sweat already darkening the folds of his blue t-shirt. “I think we got the sauna.”

I trailed behind, my quads already weakened from the steady uphill grade. I cursed Matt for coming up with the idea, and me for agreeing to it, ‘it’ being a nearly 60-mile, two-day bikepacking trip around the proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument.

Side note—I’ve never gone more than 24 miles on a bike, let alone tried to self-support it for an overnight trip.

I glanced ahead, hoping to see the seemingly never-ending incline level off. It didn’t. I tried to swallow the disappointment. I was last in a line of five—my boyfriend Adam a speck at the lead, local riders Greg Moore and Eric Lindberg with the Pocahontas Trail crew close behind, followed by Matt, and then of course, there was me.

And I hate being last.

I could walk faster, I said aloud to no one in particular. I was seriously having doubts. But I didn’t stop. I kept grinding, one pathetic pedal stroke after another.

Just 24 hours prior, I was standing outside Blackwater Bikes in Davis, W.Va., gawking at the very Salsa Fargo I was riding. Shop owner Rob Stull had graciously tracked down the bike for the tour. Its dark green frame glistened in the sun. My limited bike experience aside, the thing just looked sweet—drop bars, 29-inch wheels, sleek frame, countless rack and fender mounts. That bike is a machine, I had thought—just riding the thing would make me fast.

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“This is the bike for off-road touring,” Rob confirmed.I swelled with confidence, envisioning the 60-mile ride passing with ease. Maybe later I’d try tackling longer, harder rides. Maybe the Great Divide Trail. Maybe I’d pioneer my own transcontinental route. The possibilities were endless, really.

By the time I finally lugged my sunburnt (I thought it was supposed to rain), sweating, sorry self to where the crew was breaking at 4,551 feet, I forgot about the damn bike. Bravado gone, I chastised myself for so naively thinking this would be a cake walk, or ride.

I should have just walked.

But then, there it was, the striking view of the Williams River winding below the overlook, sweeping through the rolling ridgelines like paint strokes. The only thing better than sitting there snacking on M&Ms and basking in the views of the Allegheny Highlands was knowing that mostly, the worst of the climbing was over.

I made it.IMG_2568 IMG_2535 IMG_2512 _MG_5958 IMG_2623