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C&O Canal from Cumberland to DC (184 miles)

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C&O Canal from Cumberland to DC (184 miles)

Old 10-12-18, 11:30 PM
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steppinthrax
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C&O Canal from Cumberland to DC (184 miles)

So here goes.

I've just recently gotten into biking and own two bikes currently. I have a Trek Mutltrek 7200 (2015) and a Raleigh c-200 (both hybrids and pretty bare).

I've recently been to Cumberland, MD and to the C&O canal visitors center and afterwards I have a strong desire to bike the entire canal (from Cumberland to DC). This would be 184 miles self-supported. I've read a few different blogs and seen a few bikes and I'm quite frankly not sure if I have the equipment to do it. I do not own a rack mount and I notice pictures of bikes with "saddle bags" on the rear and the front as well. I also want to record video of the whole thing. I have several questions.

1. Is my trek bike good enough, It's an aluminum frame with 35c tires. It has a front suspension fork, however I'm thinking of replacing it with a rigid fork due to weight and the flex a suspension fork has. I'm sure I will need to equip it with a rear rack and saddle. Not sure which ones I need to get.

2. I want to shoot video on my gopro the entire way. The problem is the battery on my gopro session 5 only gets about 1 hour total of battery at 720p. In addition I suspect I would be riding in the night depending on how much I'm willing to ride. So I was looking at a Shimano Nexus Dynamo Hub, how are things in terms of resistance. I'm concerned that it will slow me down etc. Do they generate enough for a USB to charge a gopro? I would also put a front light in the center. But likely not run both at the same time.

3. In terms of timing. I read that usually this is a 2 day trip. I also read someone doing it in roughly 11 hours. I would love to hear from someone who's done portions of the trail etc.... I believe if I get some good music going I should be able to ride for several hours in one shot.

4. Are there any bike communities or groups that concentrate on that trail etc...

5. What type of tools and parts I should bring. I imagine I should bring a few spare tubes, patch kit, muti-tool.?? The food stuff I'm going to have to find out elsewhere unless someone has some ideas.

Last edited by steppinthrax; 10-13-18 at 12:09 AM. Reason: mistake
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Old 10-13-18, 10:48 AM
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If you are capable of doing back to back centuries on the road, then you should be able to do it in two days. A 20 hour video of trees and a dirt path would be pretty boring. Maybe consider just recording some interesting footage, rather than the entire route. As far as the bike is concerned, the wider the tires the better and fenders are a good idea for the potential mud.
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Old 10-13-18, 06:22 PM
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I've ridden the trail twice but not with the speed you have in mind. I think a 2/3 day trip on the GA can be done with most any bike. alan s recommendation of wide tires and fenders is a wise idea. 35s are fine. You do not say if you plan to camp. If not, I would not worry about a rack. I credit card toured for many years with a handle bar bag. Something that holds a change of clothes and a few other things would be plenty. Just wash your your stuff at night.

As for recording your trip, the GA is not eventful. Having said that, I am not sure any of our torus were worth 100% recording. But, you might have something else in mind.

There are groups that take care of the trail. Here is one https://gaptrail.org/

You may also want to check out crazyguyonabike
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Old 10-13-18, 06:49 PM
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If you have no experience riding the C&O, I would not advise doing it at night. It is hard enough to negotiate it during the day, especially if it is wet.


The bike you selected will be fine. I did it on a Trek with 32C. You will want fenders.
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Old 10-13-18, 07:08 PM
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[QUOTE=spinnaker;20614972]If you have no experience riding the C&O, I would not advise doing it at night. It is hard enough to negotiate it during the day, especially if it is wet.

I agree with this.
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Old 10-14-18, 06:12 AM
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Originally Posted by debade View Post
There are groups that take care of the trail. Here is one https://gaptrail.org/
That's the GAP, not the C&O.

https://gaptrail.org/about-us/who-we-are

The latter is managed by the N.P.S.
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Old 10-14-18, 10:35 AM
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mr steppen, given that you have just recently gotten into cycling are asking about if you should bring spare tubes etc, I have to say that 90 mile days, 145km + , two days in a row, is very likely not realistic for you to do given your riding experience, unless you are regularly doing this sort of mileage already and are comfortable with this.

even on nice paved roads, without any baggage, this distance two days in a row is just plain hard, and not something to be done if you are not properly prepared, and trail surfaces simply mean you cannot hold a given speed as easily as on pavement, and you will be expending more energy to go at X speed.

also, any bike fit issues, saddle position, bars position, shoe fit, will get shown up with such long long days, and could easily result in some physical issues that mess things up.
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Old 10-14-18, 12:26 PM
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Originally Posted by djb View Post
mr steppen, given that you have just recently gotten into cycling are asking about if you should bring spare tubes etc, I have to say that 90 mile days, 145km + , two days in a row, is very likely not realistic for you to do given your riding experience, unless you are regularly doing this sort of mileage already and are comfortable with this.

even on nice paved roads, without any baggage, this distance two days in a row is just plain hard, and not something to be done if you are not properly prepared, and trail surfaces simply mean you cannot hold a given speed as easily as on pavement, and you will be expending more energy to go at X speed.

also, any bike fit issues, saddle position, bars position, shoe fit, will get shown up with such long long days, and could easily result in some physical issues that mess things up.
+1

Moreover, there are places where the C&O Canal towpath is closed due to flood damage and/or construction.

I can't imagine who would want to view GoPro video of riding the entire distance of the towpath. Except for a few places, the scenery along the canal simply doesn't change all that much between Cumberland and DC.
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Old 10-14-18, 03:06 PM
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There are people that do the whole distance from Pittsburgh to DC in 36 hours so 90 miles a day certainly is doable but you would have to be a maniac.
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Old 10-14-18, 03:12 PM
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Originally Posted by axolotl View Post
+1

Moreover, there are places where the C&O Canal towpath is closed due to flood damage and/or construction.

I can't imagine who would want to view GoPro video of riding the entire distance of the towpath. Except for a few places, the scenery along the canal simply doesn't change all that much between Cumberland and DC.
Great Falls area maybe. But that is what? A couple of miles?

You might not have enough light for filming on the C&O. With that canopy of trees and add the fact it is often overcast, there can be very little light on thr trail.
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Old 10-15-18, 12:49 AM
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Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
Great Falls area maybe. But that is what? A couple of miles?

You might not have enough light for filming on the C&O. With that canopy of trees and add the fact it is often overcast, there can be very little light on thr trail.
Yes,

This is why I was mentioning the Shimano Dynamo and the front lamp.
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Old 10-15-18, 12:51 AM
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Originally Posted by axolotl View Post
+1

Moreover, there are places where the C&O Canal towpath is closed due to flood damage and/or construction.

I can't imagine who would want to view GoPro video of riding the entire distance of the towpath. Except for a few places, the scenery along the canal simply doesn't change all that much between Cumberland and DC.
How would I know which areas are closed ahead of time (before the trip)?

I would not post and entire enless gopro video. I would likely edit it showing significant areas. Or I would fast-forward it etc... The end result may be 10mins or so....
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Old 10-15-18, 12:57 AM
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Originally Posted by djb View Post
mr steppen, given that you have just recently gotten into cycling are asking about if you should bring spare tubes etc, I have to say that 90 mile days, 145km + , two days in a row, is very likely not realistic for you to do given your riding experience, unless you are regularly doing this sort of mileage already and are comfortable with this.

even on nice paved roads, without any baggage, this distance two days in a row is just plain hard, and not something to be done if you are not properly prepared, and trail surfaces simply mean you cannot hold a given speed as easily as on pavement, and you will be expending more energy to go at X speed.

also, any bike fit issues, saddle position, bars position, shoe fit, will get shown up with such long long days, and could easily result in some physical issues that mess things up.
Okay, what's a good way to test myself out? I'm physically fit, do 3 -4 mile runs each day (gym) and I bike to work.
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Old 10-15-18, 04:10 AM
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I've done the C&O, on a hybrid bike with 35mm tires. I put on a rear rack and added rear bags but we (my wife and I, who was on a mountain bike with bigger tires, rack and rear bags) were not camping - we stayed at motels, so didn't carry tent/cooking stuff. I had one flat with those tires, I'd probably choose 38MM if I was going to do it again, but definitely doable on 35mm.

These days you can buy "bikepacking" handlebar bags and expandable seat/saddle bags, you could carry enough without a rear rack.

It is an easy 3 day trip, either camping or "credit card style" touring like we did. It is a doable 2 day trip camping, but I'd first try doing a 75 mile ride on the road (or a smooth surface rail trail like the Great Allegheny Passage trail) first and see how you feel - any discomfort you feel, you should imagine it much worse if you did 90 miles on the C&O.

There is a Yahoo Group focused on the C&O Canal Towpath, but it is not very active - here. There is a more active GAP/C&O forum here.

Since the canal is a nation park, the US Park Service runs it and has a pretty good page detailing conditions and outages here.

You can also look for trip reports on sites like Crazy Old Guy on a Bike or CycleBlaze.

I also hike a lot on the towpath, at least on sections from Harper's Ferry to DC, and do frequent section rides from Williamsport to DC. Personally, I would not do a C&O Canal through ride if there had been more than 4-5 inches of rain in the previous month - there are many sections that turn into mudholes. This year has been particularly bad - we have had 20" above average rain this year - I doubt there was a 4 week period where we didn't get at least 8" of rain.

If you decide to do it after lots of rain, I'd definitely put on fenders and carry a chain cleaner brush or some other cleaning tool.

Hope that helps, John P.
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Old 10-15-18, 06:03 AM
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Originally Posted by steppinthrax View Post
How would I know which areas are closed ahead of time (before the trip)?

.
How about starting and ending with the National Park Service's official website?
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Old 10-15-18, 07:44 AM
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Up to you. How far can you ride your bike in one day for two days in a row. If two days is your goal, I think Williamsport would be about the closest to half way. There are LOOONG stretches of the canal where there is no where but up or down the canal to go so plan ahead. If you've got food and camping out, you have far more options. It's not like you can say I'm done and just get off the trail at some point and go into town, you may not even see another person or an "exit" off the trail for an hour or so even at biking speed, that exit may be nothing but a county road in the middle of nowhere. Not trying to scare you, just reality. That's touring in general. I do the C&O along with the GAP solo and love it.
Me personally. I wouldn't ride the C&O at night, I do a lot of night riding, just not there. There are times you are 12 inches of slick mud away from dropping into the canal on one side or falling over a hill towards the Potomac on the other. In my opinion the C&O is a unique type of ride. It is long and monotonous at times similar to road and rail trail riding BUT it is neither. You have to be in "MTB" awareness mode the whole time. The C&O terrain and surface changes constantly and you have to pay attention, pick your lines, dodge debris, change sides, and watch the terrain, add in a decent speed and any fall foliage masking the trail and it gets exciting. Fine if you are ready for it but chances are you a little tired, your mind was wondering, you were reaching for your bottle, looking at your chain, etc and you have 10-25lbs of crap strapped on your bike.

As for closures. Like mentioned, the NPS site is about as good as it gets. I've found official closures and detours that I ignored and had no problems and non closures where there was 12+ inches of the Potomac water on the trail and you couldn't tell what was river, trail, or canal.
If you are from the Cumberland area.. Try a day trip to PawPaw and back and get a feel for it, that section is a good mix of what to expect for the rest.

Last edited by u235; 10-15-18 at 11:58 AM.
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Old 10-15-18, 08:17 AM
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good luck stepp with sorting yourself out, all the best with your project.
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Old 10-15-18, 08:52 AM
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Last year I rode in the heavy rain at night for two hours from Cumberland to get to a campsite. It was challenging, but not unsafe. As far as preparation for a long ride, pick a destination 100 miles from home, ride there, spend the night, and ride back the next day. If you can do that without difficulty, you should be fine riding the entire towpath in two days. Or do a 100 mile loop from home two days in a row.
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Old 10-15-18, 09:23 AM
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Originally Posted by steppinthrax View Post
1. Is my trek bike good enough, It's an aluminum frame with 35c tires. It has a front suspension fork, however I'm thinking of replacing it with a rigid fork due to weight and the flex a suspension fork has. I'm sure I will need to equip it with a rear rack and saddle. Not sure which ones I need to get.
Like others have said, the bike is likely fine if you're comfortable on it. Maybe ride some dirt paths in your area with or without the suspension locked before you start looking at swapping out the fork. That will likely be a hassle, and you may find that you prefer having a suspension when riding off road. Wider tires and fenders would likely be upgrades that would more noticeably enhance the trip. On the other hand, if you're committed to 90 miles/day, a lighter, rigid fork may make that more possible. Just remember that you will need a fork that takes into account that your bike was made to be used with a suspension fork.

Originally Posted by steppinthrax View Post
2. I want to shoot video on my gopro the entire way. The problem is the battery on my gopro session 5 only gets about 1 hour total of battery at 720p. In addition I suspect I would be riding in the night depending on how much I'm willing to ride. So I was looking at a Shimano Nexus Dynamo Hub, how are things in terms of resistance. I'm concerned that it will slow me down etc. Do they generate enough for a USB to charge a gopro? I would also put a front light in the center. But likely not run both at the same time.
Originally Posted by steppinthrax View Post
This is why I was mentioning the Shimano Dynamo and the front lamp.
I used the Alfine dynamo hub for a while and found that the resistance didn't amount to much. Currently I'm using a Shutter Precision, and I never turn my lights off, and I never notice the resistance. However, you point out in your question and reply a potential problem with your plan: Using a dynamo hub for lighting and charging at the same time is often not possible. A best case scenario involves you only running your lights for one hour a day, because that's as long as your GoPro can run when not plugged in. Other considerations: turning your dynamo hub into a USB charging port requires an additional piece of gear. There are some relatively cheap DIY options if you're comfortable doing your own electronics wiring, or there are some more expensive, off-the-shelf options. The speed at which you travel may affect how well it works. Trail conditions will have a large effect on that, I imagine. You'll want to experiment and see what works. I get the best use out of mine by charging a battery and then using the battery to recharge my devices. To keep everything going, you might need two cache batteries to be able to swap one out, or at least a battery with pass-through charging. I've been able to keep my devices charged for days without an outlet, but it's generally done by being careful of how much power I use. If you want a run a camera the whole time you riding, you may want to do some experimenting, because I suspect you'll want to supplement your dynamo power with a spare battery or two, at least. There's a subforum on electronics and lighting that will help, but since you have very specific equipment needs, you'll probably have to experiment yourself to see how your set-up works.

Originally Posted by steppinthrax View Post
3. In terms of timing. I read that usually this is a 2 day trip. I also read someone doing it in roughly 11 hours. I would love to hear from someone who's done portions of the trail etc.... I believe if I get some good music going I should be able to ride for several hours in one shot.
Originally Posted by steppinthrax View Post
Okay, what's a good way to test myself out? I'm physically fit, do 3 -4 mile runs each day (gym) and I bike to work.
I bike to work as well. I wouldn't say I'm physically fit, but I bike pretty much daily for transportation. My wife is very fit, but does not bike with regularity. Neither of us would consider back-to-back 90 mile days to be a great idea. It gets to be a worse idea when you move those miles off road. But lots of people do it and are fine with it. I've done a 90 mile day on occasion, but it's not the norm for me. To find out what you're capable of: ride some long distances. Then load on all your gear and ride some long distances. Try and find some places where you can ride off pavement for long stretches, because it makes a difference, and you won't see much pavement on the C & O. I haven't ridden it yet. Last year I had a plan that involved me riding the 150 mile GAP plus the 184 mile C & O in about 5 and a half days. In the two days before I got to the start of the GAP, I had done 140 miles, and I decided that I couldn't keep up those miles and still enjoy the trail. I wanted to stop and look around and not feel like I was racing daylight every day. And, unlike you, I didn't really want to ride until after sunset and set up camp in the dark. I ended up doing just the 150 mile GAP trail over 4 days. It was serious slow-down compared to the original plan, but it was very enjoyable. I imagine a fit and prepared cyclist could do the GAP in two days, and maybe that's you. For me, even though I feel like it's within my ability, I wouldn't want to. Bike touring for me is about being able to slow down, see the sights, and enjoy the ride. So fitness is part of it, and bicycle-fitness in particular is a bigger part of it, but what you want to get out of the ride is also part of it.

Originally Posted by steppinthrax View Post
4. Are there any bike communities or groups that concentrate on that trail etc...
Don't know any. Lots of folks on this site have ridden it. I think someone mentioned CrazyGuy as a place to read some experiences, which is a good idea. The park itself has a website where they try and keep current with trail conditions and detours.

Originally Posted by steppinthrax View Post
5. What type of tools and parts I should bring. I imagine I should bring a few spare tubes, patch kit, muti-tool.?? The food stuff I'm going to have to find out elsewhere unless someone has some ideas.
A multi-tool, spare tube, patch kit, source of air (pump or CO2) at minimum. At least as important to bring is knowledge on how to use that stuff. I also carry a spare couple of links of chain (and a multi-tool with a chain breaker) and a Fiberfix spoke and/or spare spokes (and some experience truing wheels). Never used my chain links. Never used my spokes on a trip, I don't think. But they don't take up much space, and they could make the difference between pushing on or finding a ride to the next bike shop.

As for food, there are too many variables. Are you going to cook? Stop and eat? For a two day trip, I'd do restaurants on the road and cold food at camp to keep the gear carried and time spent cooking down. For me, I usually have at least one leisurely meal on the road at a restaurant, snack throughout the day, and maybe cook something at camp, but I'm not in a hurry.

Good luck. I hope to do this trip as well before too long, but maybe a little slower.
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Old 10-15-18, 10:38 AM
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Originally Posted by steppinthrax View Post
Yes,

This is why I was mentioning the Shimano Dynamo and the front lamp.
You would need to carry lighting the size of studio lighting to get a decent video on an overcast day.
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Old 10-15-18, 11:09 AM
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Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
You would need to carry lighting the size of studio lighting to get a decent video on an overcast day.
I would not be shooting video at night.

As someone has said I would probably alternate between lamp at night and video during day. Again I would probably not even run the camera the entire time.
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Old 10-15-18, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by steppinthrax View Post
I would not be shooting video at night.

As someone has said I would probably alternate between lamp at night and video during day. Again I would probably not even run the camera the entire time.
I am not referring to night. The day time. If you have never been there, you have no idea how little light there is when it is overcast and/or raining.

Not sure why you would want to video the whole thing anyway. It is pretty much just trees and a muddy path. The lock houses can interesting and the aqueducts but that is it aside the pawpaw and Great Falls. What you see in the photo I posted is pretty much 90% of the trail.
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Old 10-15-18, 12:39 PM
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Don’t forget to stop in the towns along the way. Harpers Ferry, if you’re never been there, for sure. Antietam is a short diversion, and well worth it. Brunswick, Shepherdstown, Williamsport, Hancock.

Last edited by alan s; 10-15-18 at 12:43 PM.
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Old 10-15-18, 01:02 PM
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Originally Posted by alan s View Post
Donít forget to stop in the towns along the way. Harpers Ferry, if youíre never been there, for sure. Antietam is a short diversion, and well worth it. Brunswick, Shepherdstown, Williamsport, Hancock.
Harpers Ferry is not worth the hassle IMHO. Pretty much fake historic buildings. Trying to get over that foot bridge is an enormous effort with bike and gear. And don't get the idea of just leaving it at the bridge as I understand theft is a huge issue there.

Antietam isn't exactly a short diversion. It is a pretty decent climb up there (at least from Hancock). I don't see the OP doing these side trips and still making the 2 day deadline.


Speaking of Hancock. Right before you get to Hancock (coming from Cumberland) there is the Western Maryland Rail Trail. It is a paved path that parallels the C&O that wikk allow you to make up some time.
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Old 10-15-18, 01:05 PM
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u235
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Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
What you see in the photo I posted is pretty much 90% of the trail.
+1. I could post three pictures and sum up 90% of the ride. One with a canal on one side, some raised up semi-gravel-dirt grass riding surface, and trees on the other side and maybe the river somewhere way off to the side. One picture with nothing but trees and thick brush on both sides of a narrow opening, two narrow gravel paths similar to tire tracks in between them, and the third picture... Similar to pic 1 or pic 2 and maybe substitute a slightly open area with a field or something on one side.

Not discouraging any filming of the trip but the C&O, would be cool to go back and remember some of it maybe but it is about as far from a sightseeing and awe inspiring visual stimulating ride as you can get. It is very quiet, very calm, very peaceful, very alone though. Just my 0.02

Last edited by u235; 10-15-18 at 01:24 PM.
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