My Epic Cross-Country Move on Amtrak

I recently moved across the United States from Tucson, Arizona to Gaithersburg, Maryland, 1940 miles apart. Tucson is in the southwest; Gaithersburg is on the east coast just north of Washington, DC. The move was a long and complicated process, as well as an epic journey.

Choosing the Train

Most Americans would drive across the country. When my uncle graduated from University of Maryland, he spent two weeks driving from Maryland to California, and visited Yellowstone National Park and many other places during his trip. Driving across the country would allow me to have a good look at the country, and seek geocaches in many states. All my clothes, computers, and other toys can be packed in the car.

While this option was attractive, I decided against it because of its high cost. Unlike my uncle, I did not purchase a vehicle during college, but relied on rental cars. Renting a car is inexpensive, but only if you return the vehicle to the same place. If I rent a car in Arizona and return it in Maryland, they are going to charge a "one way fee" that is approximately $1000, on top of the normal rental and insurance charges. Additionally, I have to spend on motels and meals. In total, the driving option would cost me between $2000 and $3000.

Google Maps estimated a driving distance of 2290 miles, or 33 hours non-stop. I am not accustomed to long drives. I felt exhausting on the 3-hour drive from Tucson to Yuma, and I couldn't imagine a 11x longer drive. This is another important factor for me to decide not to drive.

My Last Month in Tucson

I began my life as a Tucsonan on Aug 04, 2011, spent six years as a PhD student at The University of Arizona. However, everything has an end, and my life in Tucson ended on Aug 31, 2017, after I accepted a research job in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Move to Sahara Apartments

My apartment lease at University Arms Apartments ended on Aug 01, 2017. I needed one more month in order to finish editing my dissertation. I chose Sahara Apartments for my short-term accommodation.

On Jul 15, I went to Sahara Apartments to "apply for a room". I received a tour promptly, but I was told to apply online, because they do everything online. Despite being a small community, Sahara had a complicated website for all the business procedures, including new resident application, rent payment, maintenance requests, shuttle reservation, and policy violation reporting.

I put in my online application a day later, and received an invoice within a few hours. The invoice indicates that paying by credit card would incur a 4% convenience fee, and paying by personal check would incur a five-day delay to make sure the check clears. WTF?

Tucson's Museums

Visiting museums is a good way to learn about the culture of a region. During my six years living in Tucson, I found and visited many museums in this city, and here are some of my favorites.

5. Arizona State Museum

Arizona State Museum is located on University of Arizona campus. I knew about this museum since the beginning when I participated in ISA's very first campus race event, but I never paid a visit because I thought it is literally steps away from my office so I can visit "some time". In August 2017, when I'm days away from graduation, I finally visited this museum. My visit spanned two afternoons due to the rich content in this museum.

Paths of Life exhibit in Arizona State Museum

The main exhibit at Arizona State Museum, Paths of Life, presents the origins, histories, and contemporary lifeways of ten Native American cultures in Southwest America. While I have interacted with members of Tohono O'odham and Yaqui tribes through their presentations at Tucson Meet Yourself, I gained better understanding at this Paths of Life exhibit about their culture, religious beliefs, and struggles. I also learned about eight other indigenous tribes in the Southwest region but further from Tucson.

Hiking in Arizona

I was a couch potato before I came to the United States six years ago. There aren't many outdoor adventures in my hometown Shanghai, because Shanghai is located on a flat peninsula, and the only place that resembles a mountain is the 97-meter Sheshan Hill. In contrast, Tucson is surrounded by five mountain ranges, and it is a hiking paradise.

My First Hike

Among the grad students in computer science department, there is an organization called the Graduate Student Council (GSC). On the same week as orientations, I attended the first GSC meeting, and learned about various activities organized by GSC. One of them is a "hiking club". I joined their mailing list, although I did not know what I was signing up for.

The first hike was on Oct 01, 2011 going to Butterfly Trail. I took an early morning bus to school, and brought "plenty of water for yourself, sturdy hiking shoes, lunch, warm cloth" as instructed by the trip leader. We departed shortly after 09:15, and it was a long ride in Jeremy Wright's car.

Butterfly Trail, 01OCT2011

My Favorite Tucson Restaurants

During my six years living in Tucson, I visited hundreds of local restaurants. Here are my top picks. Those restaurants are all good, and their order within this article does not indicate my preference.

Best on campus: IQ Fresh

crispy fish wrap from IQ Fresh

Located in the main student union, IQ Fresh is my usual place for a quick lunch between classes. They mainly serve wraps: shredded meats and veggies rolled inside a piece of tortilla. They offer 14 different meats and veggies, and 10 tortilla flavors, giving 140 choices.

My favorite is the crispy fish wrap in spinach wrapper, with a side of sweet potato fries. Sadly, this particular item has been discontinued in 2015, and I stopped going there altogether.

Heat and Monsoon

Tucson has four seasons: spring, summer, monsoon, and winter. Located in the desert, the climate is very different from my hometown Shanghai. I have been accustomed to Tucson's climate after living here for six years.

Summer Heat

The summer is extra long. @TheTucsonHeat arrives in April or earlier, and would not leave until Halloween at end of October. Thus, seven of the twelve months belong to the summer.

Heat is the number one weather related killer in Arizona. House cooling is not optional. Heat warning signs are everywhere:

"the heat is on" sign in Joel D Valdez Main Library

Heavy Iron Stuff

I started going to the gym regularly during my fourth through sixth years at University of Arizona. Weight lifting helped me to lose weight of up to 30lb, and replaced some of my body fat with juicy muscles.

How It All Started

I have been swimming since the second day I arrived in Tucson, but my body looked the same, because my roommate was cooking large bowls of white rice and fatty meats for me. Since I moved to University Arms and started living alone, I decided to change things up. I started running on treadmill and using the elliptical trainer on and off in the Campus Rec. I was thinking to eat less and cut back on ice cream.

I ate only one apple at the breakfast of Oct 14, 2014, and felt hungry two hours later. I wondered, am I eating too little? To find the answer, I decided to calculate how much calories I was eating on that day. I searched online for a "calorie calculator", and found MyFitnessPal. It is not only a "calculator", but also an app to keep track of how much I ate. I made my first entry:

MyFitnessPal food diary on Oct 14, 2014

On Two Wheels

Tucson is walkable when staying around UA campus and downtown area. To go farther, I often ride a bus with six wheels, hail a taxi with four wheels, or drive a rental car behind one wheel, all of which costs money. More frequently, I would ride a bike on two wheels. I enjoy riding a bike because it is free: I can go places without buying a ticket, and I have the freedom to go anywhere without worrying about missing the bus or being unable to find parking.

Rillito River Park, π day, 2015

First Ride on Cat Wheels

Cat Wheels bike sharing program, offered by Parking & Transportation Services, loans bikes to students for free. I can pick up a bike at any parking garage, ride for a whole day, and return by 16:00 the next day. Since garages are only open on weekdays, a bike borrowed on Friday won't be due until Monday, making this a plusgood deal.

my first Cat Wheels rental bike

Meet the World at International Student Association

Most of my social life during my six years at University of Arizona was at the International Student Association (ISA). I made friends, made frenemies, and had fun through events and gatherings organized by ISA.

ISA Trail Dust Town visit, Apr 04, 2013

The Very First Event

Every incoming international student is required to attend the International Student Orientation, organized by International Student Programs and Services (ISPS). In the 2011 orientation, ISPS recruited a group of student workers, called Peer Integrators (PIs), to assist with the orientation, and to plan and participate in orientation social events for new international students. One of the social events was a campus race on Aug 14, 2011, organized by Morris Zhou, a PI from China. I participated in this event because its name sounds like my favorite TV show The Amazing Race.

The goal of this event was to make students familiarize with the UA campus. Each team of two or three students were given a sheet of hints, each referring to a location on campus. Within one hour, the team must visit as many locations as they can, and take pictures of the team members in front of those locations. The team that gets the largest number of correct answers would be awarded the winner.