From the very first mile, we were climbing. The morning\u2019s 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.\r\n\r\n\u201cI figure it\u2019s either going to be a downpour or a sauna,\u201d 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\u2019s labored breathing, could see the sweat already darkening the folds of his blue t-shirt. \u201cI think we got the sauna.\u201d\r\n\r\nI 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, \u2018it\u2019 being a nearly 60-mile, two-day bikepacking trip around the proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument.\r\n\r\nSide note\u2014I\u2019ve never gone more than 24 miles on a bike, let alone tried to self-support it for an overnight trip.\r\n\r\nI glanced ahead, hoping to see the seemingly never-ending incline level off. It didn\u2019t. I tried to swallow the disappointment. I was last in a line of five\u2014my 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.\r\n\r\nhttps:\/\/vimeo.com\/178898535\r\n\r\nAnd I hate being last.\r\n\r\nI could walk faster, I said aloud to no one in particular. I was seriously having doubts. But I didn\u2019t stop. I kept grinding, one pathetic pedal stroke after another.\r\n\r\nJust 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\u2014drop bars, 29-inch wheels, sleek frame, countless rack and fender mounts. That bike is a machine, I had thought\u2014just riding the thing would make me fast.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cThis is the bike for off-road touring,\u201d Rob confirmed.I swelled with confidence, envisioning the 60-mile ride passing with ease. Maybe later I\u2019d try tackling longer, harder rides. Maybe the Great Divide Trail. Maybe I\u2019d pioneer my own transcontinental route. The possibilities were endless, really.\r\n\r\nBy 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.\r\n\r\nI should have just walked.\r\n\r\nBut 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.\r\n\r\nI made it. \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nLike kids on a snow day, we cruised down the remaining 17 miles to camp in glee. The miles came fast and easy, the pavement turned to gravel. We cruised through thick stands of red spruce, alongside surging rivers and streams, between lush understories layered in every shade of green imaginable.\r\n\r\nWe perused\u00a0the Cranberry Glades Boardwalk, stopping to admire the pitcher plants and hawks. We filled our water from springs and harvested ramps from the forests. The forecast had called for a 40 percent chance of rain (which in early May in West Virginia, most likely means 100 percent), but the sun never stopped shining. The day was glorious.\r\n\r\nJust a few miles from Tumbling Rock Shelter, our camp for the evening, we passed by a pair of local anglers on bikes. Clearly, they were using their rides out of convenience more than anything. Poles stuck out haphazardly, crammed into the empty spaces between wet boots, bulky Coleman sleeping bags, full-size grills, lawn chairs, and canvas tents, all of which was ever-so-precariously dangling from their rusted bikes.I looked down at my handlebars to the two dry bags bulging under my NRS cam straps. Suddenly my makeshift bikepacking bags didn\u2019t seem so bush-league anymore.\r\n\r\n\u201cI wouldn\u2019t be surprised if they had a TV in there,\u201d Greg whispered as we rode on.\r\n\r\nThe five of us were a motley crew at best. Greg, 45, and Eric, 64, looked the most competent, Greg sporting a Specialized single speed and Eric on a Salsa Warbird, both decked out in the\u00a0latest bikepacking bags. Adam and Matt sported paniers, while I settled on lugging everything I couldn\u2019t squeeze into my drybags on my back. The weight of my camera gear was starting to rub my lower spine raw.\r\n\r\nEric knew my pain. Sometime in the late \u201860s, Eric, then 16, had set out on his first \u201cbikepacking\u201d trip from Hollywood, Fla., to Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Armed with little more than a heavy backpack and a couple bucks, he made it work, cruising 75 miles through quiet backroads and never-ending sand dunes. He was hooked. A decade later, he rode 1,000 miles from central Florida to Tennessee, self-supported on his bike. Comparatively, this 60-mile jaunt around his West Virginia backyard was like child\u2019s play.\r\n\r\nBy 2 p.m., we arrived at camp. Thunder rumbled in the distance. We hustled to collect firewood before the inevitable storm came. Adam and I opted for a grove of hemlock trees to hammock under while the rest of the crew posted up in the shelter. The Cranberry River coursed along the banks, heavy but clear from recent rain. I peeled back my socks to soak my feet in its crystal cold flow. Eric moseyed a little upstream, shedding clothes as he went.\r\n\r\n\u201cHope you don\u2019t mind if I strip down for a dip,\u201d he said, more as a courtesy warning than anything.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nThe evening passed slowly, simply. We made dinner, stared at the fire, listened to the rain dribble down the shelter\u2019s tin roof. Eric pulled a bag of red wine from his pack. We filled my dinner bowl to the brim, passing it around like a ceremonial chalice, laughing and sharing stories. It was the first time any of us had met, with the exception of Adam, Matt, and I. Between the hard-earned miles, the childish bliss of camping under the night sky, and maybe a little bit of heady wine, we hardly felt like strangers.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThe next morning\u00a0dawned cool and foggy. The canopy sagged from the moisture, splattering fat raindrops on my tarp. By the time we were packed and pedaling, the sky had unleashed a steady drizzle. We zipped shells to chins, and, heads hunkered, pedaled on as misty rain turned spitting turned downpour.\r\n\r\nWe passed by expansive fishing camps with canvas tents and wood stoves and mess halls, stopping only to admire the gushing waterfalls as they poured from the mountainside into the Cranberry. Soon, the level grade peeled away from the river, climbing, again, toward Bishop Knob.\r\n\r\nAdam and Greg took to the lead, churning the moderately short, but steep, grunt uphill in 20 minutes flat. At the top, they saw a bear. The rain subsided. The muggy sauna returned. Eric and I shed our shells, damp from sweat. I tried focusing on the verdant forest and mossy earth radiating in the rain\u2019s absence, but the gravel going was slow, my legs like uncooked spaghetti. I could feel the frustration bubble up inside, brimming to the brink of total meltdown.\r\n\r\nAnd then, just as quickly as it had started, the climb was over.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s all downhill from here!\u201d Matt shouted over his shoulder, zooming in line behind Greg and Eric. Adam and I followed suit, flying downhill for three miles straight, unable to keep from smiling despite the muddy gravel flying off our wheels, caking our faces and rear-ends.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nJust a few hours later we were back at Tea Creek Campground where our cars sat waiting. Soaked and sore, I felt empowered, accomplished, like I truly earned the ice cold pale ale Eric offered me.\r\n\r\n\u201cMy old lady calls it \u2018getting Lindberged,\u2019\u201d Greg said when I tried to decline a second beer from Eric. There would be no refusing. Not this time. Eric was in the mood for celebrating. He shoved the beer into my hand. We toasted to the trip, the company, and the national monument we all hoped would be finalized in the coming year. The doubts I\u2019d felt just 24 hours earlier evaporated, becoming a warm and fuzzy memory, an essential part of the adventure. I was sad to see the trip\u2019s end. I\u2019d almost be willing to climb up the Highland Scenic Highway right then and there just to keep the journey going, I thought.\r\n\r\nKey word there being, almost.\r\n\r\nOff the Couch\r\n\r\nTwo months after that initial foray into the world of bikepacking, I found myself in the Oveja Negra Threadworks shop in Salida, Colo. Created by Lane and Monty Willson, a husband-wife team who started making 100 percent American-made bikepacking bags out of necessity, the Oveja Negra brand prides itself on durability, functionality, and accessibility. When they\u2019re not cranking out handmade bikepacking and commuter bags, they\u2019re repairing gear for walk-ins and established organizations like Outward Bound.Lane shared a story with me of one such walk-in, an East Coaster with a Wal-Mart getup (including the bike) in need of a zipper repair on his equally cheap bag. Hesitantly, Lane agreed, but when she saw his too-big Wal-Mart pants and matching belt, she had to ask\u2014Dude, what\u2019s up?\r\n\r\nThe gentleman was en route, by bike, to a West Coast friend suffering the health consequences of an inactive lifestyle. With nothing more than a Wal-Mart discount and an urgent impulse to change his own life, Lane\u2019s customer got off the couch, dropped a few hundred bucks on what he thought he might need for a cross-country biking trip, and hit the road. The added holes on his belt were proof alone that the trip was indeed working miracles.\r\n\r\n\u201cThat\u2019s the beauty of bikepacking,\u201d says Rob Stull, owner of Blackwater Bikes back in Davis, W.Va. Like Lane\u2019s customer, Rob grew up piecemealing his own bike-supported adventures along the C&O Canal without any formal \u201cbikepacking\u201d knowledge. \u201cYou don\u2019t necessarily have to go out and get a bikepacking-specific bike and bikepacking-specific bags and gear. You can make a trip happen with the stuff you might find in your gear closet, like freaking bungee cords and dry bags.\u201d\r\n\r\nSo in the name of bungee cords, electrical tape, and Wal-Mart bikes, we\u2019ve compiled some tips, tricks, and trips for novice bikepackers in need of a little direction to get started.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nTips, Tricks, and Trips\r\n\r\nHow do I get started? Where do I go? Do I need a new bike? All of these questions, and then some, answered by our bikepacking experts Logan Watts, founder of bikepacking.com, and Stephen Proffitt, product manager for Shenandoah Bicycle Company.\r\nTips\r\n#1 Ask yourself\u2014What do you want out of this experience?\r\n\r\nFor Shenandoah Bicycle Company\u2019s Stephen Proffitt, the answer to this question is essential. Some people may want to do long distances, go light, and ride fast, while others may want to enjoy the journey, tackle fewer miles, and never leave the security of their backyard. And that\u2019s okay. Before you start wracking up thousands of dollars on your credit card, Proffitt says to stop, think, and listen, not to the sales person pitching the latest Revelate bag, but to yourself.\r\n\r\n\u201cBike people often say, \u2018Well, this is what I\u2019d do,\u2019 or \u2018This is what you want,\u2019 and that\u2019s so aggressive to a customer,\u201d Proffitt says. \u201cThe real question is, \u2018Hey, what are you looking to get out of this experience? What are your goals?\u2019 Bikepacking is basically the hiking of the bike world. There are super big nerds out there who want the lightest setup, but at its heart, it\u2019s using existing gear and trying to strap it to your bike in awesome ways.\u201d#2 Just go do it.\r\n\r\n\u201cYou don\u2019t really need a lot of stuff to do it,\u201d says bikepacking.com founder Logan Watts. \u201cYou just need to go do it.\u201d\r\n\r\nIf that requires shedding gear as you ride, which Watts and his wife found themselves doing during their first long-distance ride from Mexico to Panama, that\u2019s fine. Over time, you\u2019ll refine your setup, Watts says, but don\u2019t worry about getting it right your first go.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe best adventure, your first adventure, should be to just load up everything you think you need in a backpack for one night, fill your water bottle holders, get on your bike and ride,\u201d adds Proffitt. \u201cWhen you go home, lay out the things you didn\u2019t touch and next time, don\u2019t bring them.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n#3 Keep it simple.\r\n\r\nWhile month-long journeys across the Ugandan countryside certainly sound, and are, epic by default, that doesn\u2019t mean you have to tackle a big escapade in order to have a good time. In fact, Watts says, long weekend trips could be all you need to satisfy your itch.\r\n\r\n\u201cI always tell people some of the best adventures can be found right in your backyard,\u201d Watts says. \u201cJust a few months ago, [my wife and I] were temporarily living outside of Raleigh. In that part of eastern North Carolina, there\u2019s nothing. No mountain bike trails. No mountains.\u201d\r\n\r\nSo one week, Watts decided to craft an overnighter to cure his wanderlust. Less than an hour away, he landed on Croatan National Forest off the coast of North Carolina. He laid out his route, hit rubber to road. And the result?\r\n\r\n\u201cIt was amazing. I found this perfect camp spot on the beach.\u201d\r\n\r\nMoral of the story? Adventure is closer at hand, and simpler to achieve, than you may be inclined to believe.#4 Get creative.\r\n\r\nAnd if you\u2019re not the creative type, consult YouTube, Pinterest, or any number of bikepacking forums (bikepacking.com even has a section purely designated for cheap, DIY bikepacking \u201chacks\u201d). Learn to make a shelter out of a Wal-Mart tarp and the bike you already own. Rig a seat post bag without dropping $200. The Internet as a resource is a beautiful thing. Use it.\r\n\r\n\r\n#5 Remember that no one setup is the right setup.\r\n\r\nWhat may work for your ultralight guru of a friend may be completely unrealistic for you. Totally normal. Unlike traditional team sports, bikepacking is an individual endeavor, even when riding in groups.\r\n\r\n\u201cAt its heart, all of this is somewhat grassroots,\u201d Proffitt says about bikepacking. \u201cYou\u2019re going to have the things that work for you and your personality and your packing style. Some people don\u2019t bring a tent. Other people aren\u2019t going to be able to function like that. If you require bringing a trailer to bring all of your things the first time, that\u2019s fine.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe point is to have fun with it and experiment. You can\u2019t really go wrong.\r\nTricks\r\n#1 Use electrical tape.\r\n\r\nSo your fork doesn\u2019t have any water bottle mounts? Big deal. Grab a couple rolls of electrical tape and some water bottle cages and tape away. Be sure to tape an extra tube somewhere on your bike. The best part about electrical tape is that it doesn\u2019t leave any residue when you remove it. Plus, you can get some super funky colors. Style is everything, even when using electrical tape.\r\n\r\n#2 Invest in dry bags.\r\n\r\nIf there\u2019s one thing you should buy right off the bat, it\u2019s a couple of heavy-duty dry bags. More important than being able to strap everything to your bike is that your gear also stays dry. Plus, dry bags are inherently easy to attach to any bike. Just cinch them down with a couple of straps to the handlebar, or loop the clip upside down under the seat post and strap tight.\r\n\r\n#3 Love Tyvek.\r\n\r\nIf you don\u2019t love and use Tyvek already, you should. Ground cloth, bivy, heck I\u2019ve even seen a guy rocking a Tyvek kilt before. It\u2019s versatile, it\u2019s durable, it\u2019s lightweight, it\u2019s packable, and most importantly, it\u2019s cheap.\r\n\r\n#4 Make every inch count.\r\n\r\nSize does matter. Eventually you\u2019re not going to want to ride technical singletrack with a heavy pack strapped to your back. As you hone your packing system, look to the bike itself for storing supplies. That empty triangle in the middle of your bike can hold an amazing amount of stuff. Bikepacking.com has instructions for a DIY frame bag (for the crafty and cheap), but you can also purchase a half size or full frame bag for around $100.\r\n\r\n#5 Think \u201cmultipurpose.\u201d\r\n\r\nThis is where it really starts to get fun. Can you go without, say, tent poles, by using your bike\u2019s handlebars to stake out the fly? Can your tire pump still function if you wrap a bunch of gorilla tape around it for emergencies (that stuff fixes everything)? The lighter you can go, the better those climbs are going to feel.\r\n\r\nOh, and bring latex gloves. You might not necessarily come across a bloody limb, but you probably will encounter a broken chain. Keep those paws clean.\r\n\r\n\u201cI often get made fun of for doing so, but it's something I've learned commuting by bicycle over the years,\u201d says Proffitt. \u201cNice clothes and greasy hands aren't friends.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nTrips\r\n\u2022 Travel in company and learn the basics of bikepacking with Shenandoah Bicycle Company!\u00a0Upcoming bike campout: October 22-23\r\n\r\n\u2022 Get schooled in backcountry bikepacking clinic-style with Mulberry Gap\u2019s seasoned guides.\u00a0This north Georgia-based biking facility offers four-day Cohutta Backcountry Bikepacking 101 and 201 courses in the spring and summer ($100 each) for intermediate riders looking to get some helpful pointers on everything from packing to route planning. Or check out Mulberry Gap\u2019s two-part, guided tour of the Trans North Georgia September 18-26. Visit mulberrygap.com for more information!\r\nBirthplace of Rivers National Monument\r\nMarlinton, W.Va.\r\nDistance: 58.8 miles\r\nDifficulty (1-10): 4\r\nType: Loop\/overnighter\r\nTerrain: 50 percent gravel, 50 percent paved\r\nHighlights: Ramp season, riverside riding, shelter camping, mountain views\r\nDirections: http:\/\/bit.ly\/CranberryWilderness\r\n\r\nTwo Gorges Gravel\r\nMorganton, N.C.\r\nDistance: 75 miles\r\nDifficulty (1-10): 4\r\nType: Loop\/overnighter\r\nTerrain: 55 percent unpaved, no singletrack\r\nHighlights: Expansive scenery of Linville Gorge, timing the ride with rhododendron-in-bloom, a 20-mile gravel descent (f'real), Wilson Creek\u2019s wilderness feel and stunning landscape\r\nDirections: http:\/\/bit.ly\/TwoGorgesGravel\r\n\r\nSlate Springs\r\nHarrisonburg, Va.\r\nDistance: 52 miles\r\nDifficulty (1-10): 4\r\nType: Loop\/overnighter\r\nTerrain: 75 percent gravel, 25 percent paved\r\nHighlights: Meadow Knob camping, Reddish Knob descent, ample spring access and wildlife viewing\r\nDirections: http:\/\/bit.ly\/SlateSprings\r\n\r\n\r\nIron Mountain Trail\r\n\r\nDamascus, Va.\r\nDistance: 43 miles\r\nDifficulty (1-10): 5\r\nType: Loop\/overnighter\r\nTerrain: 50 percent paved, 50 percent singletrack\r\nHighlights:\u00a0 6-mile long downhill, shelter camping, creek crossings, rock gardens, classic Appalachian green tunnel\r\nDirections: http:\/\/bit.ly\/IronMTNTrail or http:\/\/bit.ly\/IronMTN100 for singletrack only (51.4 miles; route of Iron Mountain 100K)\r\n\r\nThe Appalachian (Beer) Trail\r\nPisgah National Forest, N.C.\r\nDistance: 108 miles\r\nDifficulty (1-10): 7\r\nType: One-way\/four-day minimum\r\nTerrain: 50 percent unpaved, 50 percent singletrack\r\nHighlights: Ultimate tour-de-western-North-Carolina for craft beer and singletrack both, Black Mountain Trail\u2019s epic downhill, Slate Rock overlook\r\nDirections: http:\/\/bit.ly\/AppBeerTrail\r\n\r\nTrans North Georgia\r\nSouth Carolina to Alabama\r\nDistance: 342 miles\r\nDifficulty (1-10): 7.5\r\nType: One-way\/five-day minimum, seven-day average\r\nTerrain: 72 percent unpaved, 18 percent singletrack, little paved\r\nHighlights: Solitude, waterfall and creekside riding, Cohutta Mountain views, Stanley Gap and Bear Creek singletrack, rest and reprieve at Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Getaway at mile 220\r\nDirections: http:\/\/bit.ly\/TransNGA\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nGo-To Gear\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s safe to say Logan Watts has spent more time on a bike than in a car since he and his wife sold their belongings and hit the road in 2012. A native of Winston-Salem, N.C., Watts has ridden from Mexico to Panama, and in Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Morocco, Southern Spain, and that\u2019s just the start of the list. Watts sometimes posts up in Brevard, N.C., but mostly, he\u2019s still chasing bikepacking routes around the world. His gear recommendations are tried and true. Check out a few of his favorites below!\r\n\r\nVoil\u00e9 Straps ($5.50)\r\n\r\n\u201cIf anything is better than duct tape, it is the Voil\u00e9 Strap.\u201d Ranging in size from 15 inches to 32, these polyurethane straps are typically used by skiers, but their functionality extends well beyond holding your skis together or crafting an A-frame on your pack.\r\n\r\nSalsa Anything Cage & Bag\u00a0($30; $32)\r\n\r\nAnything goes with this cage and bag combo. Designed for riders looking to attach everything from lightweight gear items like sleeping pads and dry bags to large water bottles and Gatorade jugs, this unconventional bike rack gives you the ability to make every inch count.\r\n\r\nOveja Negra Snack Pack ($45-55)\r\n\r\nNow available in an XL size, this top tube bag is the perfect solution for storing caloric fuel, spare tubes, tools, the latest and greatest (and biggest) iPhone on the market. It even fits a pint of Ben and Jerry\u2019s ice cream. We tested it ourselves.\r\n\r\nRevelate Designs Handle Bar Harness ($75)\r\n\r\nAlready have an ample supply of durable dry bags? Pop \u2018em in a handle bar harness and hit the trail! This harness accommodates dry bags up to 20 liters in size and even works on drop bars. Tents, sleeping systems, packrafts, mini kegs. Whatever your need, this harness can hold it.\r\n\r\nOveja Negra Super Wedgie Frame Bag ($90-100)\r\n\r\nUtilize the space beneath your top tube without compromising the accessibility of a seat tube water bottle cage. The Super Wedgie comes in small (4+ liters) and large (6+ liters) sizes to fit whatever ride you\u2019re rockin. Complete with a hydration\/wire port and a separate map pocket, this bag will accommodate the needs of multi-day excursions, long day trips, and everything in between.\r\n\r\nRevelate Designs Sweetroll Handlebar Bag ($100)\r\n\r\n100 percent waterproof and customizable, these handlebar bags come in small, medium, and large sizes for every type of load, bike, and trip.\r\n\r\nGreen Guru Hauler ($100)\r\n\r\nMade with upcycled nylon, this seat pack is not only one-of-a-kind but also eco friendly. The Hauler provides all of the room you need to lug your camping gear, but can also be converted into a messenger bag for bikepackers who use their bikes for commuting.\r\n\r\nAcre Hauser 14L Weatherproof Hydration Pack ($215)\r\n\r\nWhatever the weather, this little ditty can handle the heat (or rain, sleet, snow, hail, crushing wind, etc.). Count on this totally sealed pack to keep everything dry on the inside while still allowing your back to breathe with the help of perforated panels and shoulder straps.