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Monday, June 25, 2012

Mer Bleu Trail 53D (aka Nightmare Trail)

Stef and I have been spending a lot of time hiking ravine trails in each of our neighborhoods this spring. We decided to step it up this weekend and spend a full day doing some trails at the nearby Mer Blue Conservation Area. I used to spend some time at this bog during family outings while growing up; however, we never strayed off the board walk. A day out with Stef presented the perfect opportunity to explore some new areas and see some wildlife.



We got to the bog around ten in the morning and were excited to begin the day. Our preparations included water, snacks, bug spray and identification keys. We started first with the boardwalk where we saw countless midland painted turtles, as well as green frogs and leopard frogs.




We then decided to walk through a forested trail which was much cooler and shaded from the hot sun. The trail was nice and challenging, with some areas that required you to climb over and under fallen trees. We even spotted a great horned owl being chased by a bluejay through the woods.

As we made our way towards the end of the trail, we came across a spring azure butterfly who took a liking to Stef’s goat-skin purse. He wouldn't leave our sides as we continued to trek. These butterflies are renown for mud-puddling, and I have a feeling this little guy really liked Stef's bag because he could lap up some proteins and amino acids (can you tell I'm a zoology nerd?).


Towards the end of the day, Stef and I opted to taking a trail back to the parking lot instead of walking along the dirt road. At first it seemed like a good idea; we'd get to enjoy some more wildlife and scenery, and we'd avoid any cars driving in and out of the bog. However, we very quickly realized what a silly mistake we had made.

The signs marking the trail didn't display anything out of the ordinary, just a notice that the hike was about 45 minutes and some areas may be wet depending on the season. The first 20 minutes of the trail were enjoyable; the grass was a little long, but it had been maintained sometime within the last month. As well, the path was through fields which meant there weren't many mosquitoes and we got a great view of the surrounding landscapes.



Suddenly the grass surrounding the trail became more and more thick and it was apparent we were wading into unmaintained territory. However, we estimated that we were probably at the halfway point and decided to push through since it would take just as long to walk all the way back to the dirt road. We probably should have turned back. Soon we were walking in six-foot-tall native grasses and could only make out the trail due to a slight parting in the foliage. The conditions forced us to a slow walk, but we continued to push through.


About an hour into the supposedly 45 minute trail we started running into patches of rice cut grass. Rice cut grass is a native plant that grows in moist soil and happens to have blades with serrated edges. I've run into rice cut grass before, but it's never given me too much grief because I've never had to go through it. Stef and I had dressed more for the weather than for hiking; we were both wearing shorts and converse shoes because usually the trails at Mer Bleu are controlled. With every step we took, the grass sliced into our legs and we felt the sting of a papercut.

With the pain of the grass we started contemplating cutting through the field to get back to the dirt road. It was a great idea, but the property between us and the road was privately owned by homeowners. We were reminded of this regularly by a myriad of "Private Property" signs and posts along the property line. This made me wonder: just how many other hikers must have been in the exact same predicament that house owners felt the need to put up signs? I was just another one of those suckers now.

We pressed forward through the tall weeds and rice cut grass. At points we couldn't even tell we were still on the trail; we were blindly following whatever parting there was in the field in front of us. Each time we'd come across a distance marker for the path we were ecstatic to know we hadn't drifted off course.

Stef and I both taking pictures of the trail marker that can be seen deep in the thicket.

About an hour and a half into our miserable trek we hit marsh. We could tell that we were almost at the parking lot and the trail was supposed to continue, but the dirt and grass had instantly turned into a peat bog. While the trail sign had warned us about seasonally wet conditions, this was definitely not the same thing! This nightmare of a trail wanted us to press on through water up to our shins. This is what finally broke Stef and I. We decided it would be in our best interest to trespass on private property and seek the stability of the dirt road (sorry fellow property owners!).

Just as we had expected, we were really close to the parking lot. A quick 10 minutes spent walking down the dirt road got us to our car where we could survey the damage done by the rice cut grass. It wasn't pretty.  Each tiny cut made by the grass was red and inflamed. Our legs were burning. However, we remained troopers the whole time and even poked fun at our ridiculous state.



While there is no happy ending to our experiences on that terrible trail, a quick drive to the nearest Tim Hortons helped rebuild our morale. We strutted into restaurant all muddy and cut and ordered some victory food. We had survived! Three weeks later and Stef and I still have slight scars on our legs and laugh about the experience from time to time. While I know the scars will fade by the end of the summer, I kinda take pride in them... it looks a little bit like I've wrestled a bear! Who wouldn't be proud of scars like that?