Where three countries meet

Our trip to the borderland last weekend took us to the end of the line, on the borders separating China, Russia, and North Korea.

This is the general area where we were:


And here’s a zoomed-in picture:


As you can see, even Google Maps has difficulty distinguishing the borders. On the ground, though, it was much clearer. Barbed-wire fences clearly marked the borders.

The Tumen River separates China and North Korea. On the Chinese side of the river, a barbed-wire fence keeps refugees from crossing the river.


On the other side, a Concertina wire fence separates China and Russia.


At one point, we were driving on a road where we could see the barbed-wire fences on both sides of the road. We were driving along a thin strip of China, between Russia and North Korea.

An old post marks the border that was agreed upon between Russia and China in the 1860s, but it’s on the other side of the fence, so it clearly doesn’t mark the current border.


A sign along the river reads “Illegal crossing of the border will be met with severe legal prosecution,” in Chinese and Korean.


From a lookout tower, you can see Russia on the left, China in the middle, and North Korea on the right, across the river. Three countries meet on this little strip of land.


The bridge across the river is for trains that run between Russia and North Korea.


We saw a train approaching from the Russian side, moving toward North Korea. We all got excited and though that we would see the train leave Russia and enter North Korea. But then it stopped just before the bridge. We think it got help up in customs and immigration.



Proof that I was there: that’s North Korea in the background.

In another place along the river, there is a foot bridge connecting China and North Korea. Apparently, the border is in the middle of the bridge. You can walk halfway across the bridge, but not all the way across.


“National Border”

You have to buy a ticket to go on the bridge. Buy when I went to the ticket office to buy a ticket, the person in the booth (who was wearing a military uniform), sternly told me “Foreigners are not allowed!”

So we had to settle for taking pictures of the bridge instead.


There is a group of Chinese tourists on the bridge, just at the mid-point. The end of the yellow lamp posts marks the end of the Chinese side of the bridge.

I have had a morbid fascination with North Korea for a many years. After this trip, I think it’s out of my system and I can move on.

As if one foreign language wasn’t enough

Just north of where I am living is the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, an area near North Korea and Russia, where a large number of ethnic Koreans live. Street signs are in Chinese and Korean, and a lot of store signs include Russian as well.


Can you tell which is the Chinese, which is the Korean, and which is the Russian?

First road trip, part one: sleeper trains

Three of my coworkers invited me on a trip this weekend to the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, northeast of Shenyang, near North Korea. Transportation being what it is in this part of China, getting there and back was half of the adventure.

Here’s a rough map of the region and route:

shenyang to yanji map 1

You can’t get directly to Yanbian from Shenyang. We had to take a train north from Shenyang to Changchun, then another train east to Yanbian.

The train to Changchun was a high-speed train, very fast (140 mph) and comfortable. That leg took less than two hours.


Changchun train station at night


High-speed train

Once we got to Changchun, we had to switch to a slower train. The only seats available were what is called “hard sleep.” Each train car is divided into compartments, with six narrow bunk beds per compartment. I got the top bunk. Luckily for me, I am in good physical shape, so climbing up and down wasn’t difficult.


It’s a looooong way down!

The narrow hallway in the train car has small stools that fold down from the side of the car, so if your roommate is snoring or farting, you can sit out and look out the window. There is also a luggage rack. I had the feeling that I was in a submarine.


Corridor in hard sleep train car

On the way back, we managed to get “soft sleep” tickets. Compartments only have four bunks instead of six, and the beds are softer. there is a HUGE difference between hard sleep and soft sleep.


My soft sleep bunk.


Soft sleep corridor

The trains between Changchun and Yanbian are older and slower than the high-speed rail. The tracks can’t handle the high-speed trains. The second leg covered only a little more ground that the first leg, but it took about eight hours, instead of the two hours for the high-speed train. We managed to sleep on the train, but it was uncomfortable sleep.

The train ride was uncomfortable for a number of reasons. One cause of discomfort was the smell of second-hand smoke. High-speed trains are smoke-free, but the sleeper trains aren’t. Smoking is a lot more common among Chinese people than among Americans, and smoking isn’t restricted to the extent that it is the U.S. Even though they try to limit where people smoke, in an enclosed space, if one person smokes, everyone smokes with him. Another cause of discomfort was the lavatory. Imagine the scariest place to relieve yourself, then make it three times more stinky.

My fellow travelers were great companions, and we made the best of it. Compared to a cross-pacific plane ride, it was better to be able to lie down and stretch out than to have to try to get comfortable in a narrow airplane seat. If they could ban smoking, and get better toilets, the quality of travel would increase a lot.

To be continued…

Hocking Hills is still awesome

We revisited Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio. The trail was just as great as when we visited in April, and this time, we got to go kayaking down the river.


Early in the morning, the sunbeams shoot through the foliage around Old Man’s Cave


Stacy and I both like to hike. We covered about 12 miles that day on the Grandma Gatewood trail.


The trail seems primeval to me. Maybe because of the big rocks and water.

The trail seems primeval to me. Maybe because of the big rocks and water.


They’re actually only a few feet off the ground, not at the edge of a sheer cliff.


All four of us made the trip this time.



The second day we took a 17-mile trip down the river. The weather was perfect, and the river was calm and easy to navigate.

Isle Royale trip, part 2

My favorite campsite on Isle Royale is called Moskey Basin. It’s located at the innermost part of Rock Harbor.

There are shelters right on the water. Shelter #3 is the best:

Sheter #3 at Moskey Basin campsite

Sheter #3 at Moskey Basin campsite

The shelter is on a large rock face, which goes right down to the water. It’s like having a big front porch that ends at the water’s edge.

We got there early, and spent the day relaxing and enjoying the island.

Chilling at Moskey Basin

Chilling at Moskey Basin


Trail tacos for dinner

Trail tacos for dinner

Having to filter all your water makes yo appreciate the convenience of running water at home.

Having to filter all your water makes you appreciate the convenience of running water at home.

We had a full moon that night. The moon rose over the outer island right in front of our shelter.

Moon Over Moskey Basin

Moon Over Moskey Basin

Well rested the next day, we set off on the trail. We walked over 10 miles that day, which is a long hike on the rugged trail.

12 Stacy on the Trail

One of the high points on the Greenstone Ridge is Mt Ojibway. We enjoyed the views of the island, Lake Superior, and Canada off in the distance.


13Dennie On Ojibwe

Another high spot is Mt Franklin (named after Ben, I think). No safety rail, 1000 feet straight down, and three hours’ hike to a ranger station. That’s why I’m not standing any closer to the edge!



Mt. Franklin

Mt. Franklin

On our last night on the island, we tried the housekeeping cottages in the Rock Harbor area. They are very expensive, and pretty spartan, but after three nights on the trail, it was wonderful to take a hot shower.

Housekeeping cottages

Housekeeping cottages

Chilling in the cottage

Chilling in the cottage

On our last day, we took a boat tour of Tobin Harbor.

Fog on Rock Harbor

Fog on Rock Harbor

Fog rolled in that morning, showing another look at the island.

18 foggy island


The weather was bad on our drive back to civilization. It rained almost all way back from Copper Harbor to East Lansing. Driving across the Mackinac Bridge in the rain is not fun.

Yucky weather

Yucky weather

Another Isle Royale trip is done. I have been there three times now, and I can’t wait to go back. Evan is talking about a solo trip next year, so I think he loves it there as much as I do.



Isle Royale is Still Awesome

This was my third trip to Isle Royale National Park, and I can’t wait to go back again.

We drove up to Copper Harbor, and took the Isle Royale Queen ferry to the island. The trip takes about 3 1/2 hours. We were luck to have perfect weather and smooth lake conditions.

01 Pre Boarding

Waiting to board the ferry in Copper Harbor



Once we arrived on the island, we had to hike 7 miles to our first stop, Daisy farm. The weather the first day was perfect. A lot of sunshine, and the wild flowers were in bloom.

02 The Trail

On the Rock Harbor Trail, heading west. The island is essentially a rock with some trees growing on it. The trail is very rugged and uneven.


The island is a wilderness area, and you have to carry everything that you will need on the trail: tent, sleeping bag, food, clothes, the works. Carrying a 30-plus pound pack on your back is tough work, no matter how good shape you’re in. Of course, taking a break and enjoying the scenery is part of the reason to visit the park.

Taking a break on the trail.

Taking a break on the trail. We are overlooking Rock Harbor and Lake Superior.

04 In The Shelter

Inside a shelter at Daisy Farm

Several campsites have three-walled shelters. Purists shun them in favor of sleeping in a tent, but I like to be able to spread out a bit, re-pack my bag, and be dry.

View of a shelter from the outside.

View of a shelter from the outside.

It rained briefly the morning of our second day, so it was nice to be able to wait it out while sitting in the shelter.

Next post: Moskey Basin.


Hiking in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio is a geologically unique environment. Sandstone formations were eroded by ground water to produce interesting rock formations and caves. We spent a few days hiking the trails in the park. It was in early April, so the spring foliage wasn’t out yet, but the scenery was still beautiful.

20130408-110219.jpg Old Man’s Cave is a huge natural amphitheater with a stream and small waterfall at the foot.

20130408-110329.jpg A stone bridge begins the trail from Old Man’s Cave to Cedar Falls.

The trail is a little rough. Wear good hiking boots if you want to take the trails.

We lost count of the number of waterfalls that we saw.


20130408-111034.jpg I was surprised that it was possible to sit on the edge of a 100-foot cliff in the park. Most public parks have guardrails to prevent you from being stupid like this.

Small boot malfunction.

You need strong legs and knees if you want to see everything in the park – there’s lots of climbing!

We hiked about 14 miles in one day (Stacy thinks it’s closer to 17). The Grandma Gatewood trail is officially 12 miles long, but we got lost at one point and walked about an hour to get back on the trail. The weather was perfect for hiking: sunny and cool (upper 50s). By the end of the day, we were tired and a little sore, but blister-free!

If you’re into nature, geology and hiking, add Hocking Hills State park to your list. It was worth the five-hour drive to get there.