Trains, Tingshas, and Trauma – My Journey to Cedar Rapids, Iowa

I expect unexpected drama when traveling overseas, but not so much here in the states. Sorry for rambling, but I just had to get this out!

Part 1: The Train

I didn’t plan to blog about this trip, and I’ve been horrible at journaling lately, but now back on my way to Denver from Iowa I feel compelled to document my journey before I lose the crazy details. Who knew the cornfields had so much adventure to offer?

I’ve been traveling a lot recently and have spent quite a few hours in airports and on planes. I was preparing to head to SE Asia after a couple of months in Colombia and Nicaragua, but found an opportunity for a sound healer training with a workshop in Cedar Rapids that was exactly what I wanted. I decided to fit it in before heading to Cambodia.

I looked at flights but none of the options seemed great so I decided to venture out and take my first trip on Amtrak. Cool, right? Should be a fun, new adventure…Excited, I quickly googled the closest station to Cedar Rapids which is Mt. Pleasant. Minutes later I had a ticket, found an AirBnB less than a mile from the training center, and was gearing up to go.

A couple of days later I was hanging out with some friends in my neighborhood who happen to be from the Midwest. One of them warned me Mt. Pleasant is a very small town and that I may want to check my transportation options.

I knew Mt. Pleasant wasn’t in Cedar Rapids but figured it must be a quick Uber ride…..uh, not so much. It’s actually about 75 miles and Uber isn’t a thing, so I checked the bus. Unfortunately, I was to arrive at 9 AM and the only bus was at 4:30 PM. I wasn’t planning on renting a car since my AirBnB was so close to the training, but this seemed like the only option left other than hitchhiking. But wait… Mt. Pleasant is so small there isn’t even a rental car office.

After a couple of messages with my AirBnB host, asking for suggestions, I determined I needed to go one station further to Burlington, IA, where there were a couple of car rental options. Luckily, even though I had a non-changeable ticket, I was able to add the extra stop for $63. I found the local Enterprise and rented a midsize gem for the journey.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022, the day finally arrived, and I got to Union Station in plenty of time to board my 7:10 PM train. Earlier that morning, a friend at the gym mentioned a railroad strike looming, but it seemed nothing would change until Friday, so my trip out should be fine. The monitor at the station showed about a 30-minute delay, but hey, no problem, Union Station is fun, and a glass of wine needed to be had to kick off the trip.

We pulled out at around 11 PM after some mechanical issues and much uncertainty about if the strike situation would stop us completely. Minutes before we left, they announced all linens and towels must stay on the train because the station was closed until further notice. I was on the last train they let move before clearing the tracks to avoid being stuck between the freight trains if the strike happened. My train, the California Zephyr, was headed for The Windy City, Chicago. I was happy it was pretty empty and I had lots of legroom to stretch out!

As we neared Omaha, the conductor announced all passengers destined for Chicago must get off in Kansas City. They would be put up in a hotel and possibly bussed the next day. I was thankful I was still good to go for Burlington but decided to check other options for getting home on Monday. Flights were expensive plus I would be left with the rental car in the wrong city. A one-way car rental to Denver was $1,600, so that was out. Trailways bus it was! I purchased a refundable ticket and crossed my fingers that the trains would be back up and running.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022, 12:15 PM, It was a nice morning and I made it! Burlington, Iowa! Next challenge, getting to Enterprise 3.5 miles away to pick up the rental car. A woman I met on the train, who was also getting off in Burlington, mentioned there would be a small bus at the station that could drop me off anywhere around town for a couple of dollars. This sounded perfect. The two of us, plus an older lady, stepped off the train and entered the empty station. The bus was out front, and I asked the driver about getting a ride. She told me she would be back after her potty break to talk to me. When she got back, she informed me, although I was the only one that needed a ride, I would have to wait for the next bus which would leave in about an hour. I said, okay, maybe I’ll just get an Uber…..she laughed, said that won’t happen, lit her cigarette, and walked away.  

Being it was hot and muggy and I hadn’t really slept, I asked the older lady, Shirley, who got off the train with me if she’d mind giving me a ride which I was happy to pay for. She kindly said, “sure, no problem and you don’t need to pay me anything.” Perfect. We were off.

We turned right out of the station onto a closed road. They didn’t block the driveway or post any signs at the station, so we had no idea until a construction worker came running after us shouting. For some reason she froze up and continued driving for another block. I suggested she make a U-turn at the next intersection to get back on the open side of the road, but instead, she swung right and then tried to turn in a circle to the left???…I saw it coming but was helpless as we crashed down about 14” off the edge of the newly poured concrete on the passenger side, and high centered on a curb on the driver side. Whoops!!

I quickly got out to see what happened, realizing there was no way I could lift this old 4-door sedan up and out of this situation alone. Luckily the workers were hanging out on their lunch break, and about six big guys came over shocked at what just had gone down on their new concrete. Being good ‘ol midwestern boys, they all kept their cool and were sweet to Shirley. They told her they would get her out, and quickly jumped into action.

First, they tried to lift and push the car from the front. No way! Next, a couple of them started brainstorming about chains, straps, and a Bobcat as they noticed the lower portion of the car was all flexible plastic. In the meantime, a couple of the other guys grabbed some 2×4’s to shove under the front tire that had dug itself into the soft gravel. Again, they tried to back her out slowly with everyone pushing, but no luck.

Plan C…one of the guys said, “hey, open the trunk and the two biggest guys can get in and jump up and down as the rest of us lift and push from the front. There was a quick debate about who was heaviest, but two guys were elected, and they climbed in. With the 2×4’s under the front tire, 4 guys lifting and pushing from the front, 2 guys bouncing in the trunk, and me watching the amazing teamwork, they did it! We were free! The tires were a bit low, but they calmly guided Shirley across the road and got us back on our way. I just wish I would have taken a video or a few pics, but couldn’t bring myself to do it seeing the embarrassment on her face.

Here is a pic of where we ended up. I took this on the way back!

I navigated the rest of the way (thanks Google Maps!), as we chatted about her family, hobbies, and an upcoming road trip she was planning with a friend to see a popular TV preacher speak live in St. Louis. She mentioned her friend would be driving because she was more comfortable in bigger cities….phew!

Soon we arrived at Enterprise, and I gave her my blog in case she was interested in following. So, Shirley, if you are reading this, thank you for the fun story and let me know how St. Louis was! I offered once again to pay, but she told me just to “pay it forward” to the next person. I thought this was a really sweet gesture!

When I walked into the Enterprise office, the agent was expecting me as I had called in the morning to let him know I was running late and to ask about the one-way rentals. After some quick paperwork and showing him some stretches for his neck pain (after he asked about my yoga email), I was finally headed north to Cedar Rapids. Woohoo!

Part 2: Arriving in Cedar Rapids

I turned on some soothing music and enjoyed the peaceful drive through the corn and soybeans. Everything was perfect as I anticipated a nice shower and a nap. It was almost 4 pm, and about 24 hours since I had left Denver. I was exhausted. I got closer to my AirBnB, following the numbers down the street. The neighborhood looked simple and neat, except one house at the end of the block that looked super rough. It had a for sale sign in the yard. It couldn’t be…..but it was! Deciding to leave my bags in the car and feeling a bit confused, I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and told myself, “You got this!”. It was only 5 nights and couldn’t be that bad.

Well, wrong again. It was that bad. After learning about how the driveway would tell me I was being recorded when I came in, how the floodlights would light up the whole street from several houses down, and how the neighbors hated him so I should park in the driveway where it was safe, he led me inside. I don’t even know where to start. First I met Peanut, a very loud chihuahua, as I noticed hundreds of pots, pans, and appliances stacked all over the floor between the kitchen and the entryway. The floor was plywood with a few scraps of broken tile left in a few spots and the drywall was missing off most of the walls and ceilings.

Next, he led me upstairs explaining the other guest, Annie, was trans and liked to be referred to by her female name. Fine. I had no idea there was a second room being rented but couldn’t be surprised anymore. Annie is a machinist and works 2nd shift, so she would be in around midnight or 1 and had difficulty being quiet. We were all to share one bathroom upstairs, with no flooring, half a mirror, and plywood countertops. My bedroom, clearly labeled “bedroom 2” on a paper taped to the door, had flooring, 30-year-old nasty carpet, but flooring!

By now you are probably thinking the place was all bad, but wait, the positive perks are coming… He opened the linen cabinet and showed me the stack of 4-5 towels and washcloths as he smiled and told me I could use whatever I wanted and just throw them in the hamper. He would do all the laundry just like a hotel! Sweet! After a quick story in the hallway about how he is going to move to the Philippines with his girlfriend of 10 years, who he has never met, and is going to die there with her as he has a condition, we moved back down to the kitchen.

Surprise! Plywood for countertops, a greasy stove, and no drywall on the walls or ceilings. He showed me my shelf in the fridge and three huge, very old, spice racks I was allowed to use. He also said he would share his favorite Jimmy Dean breakfast sausages and buy me some Pepsi and Mountain Dew. Yippee since I don’t eat sausage or drink pop! The good news is he did tell me I could leave any dishes in the sink and he would wash them.

As the tour wrapped up, I politely excused myself and said I needed to go grab a few things from the store. I drove away not really knowing what to do but knowing this was not going to be the quiet, peaceful place I had hoped for to relax during my training. Feeling a little desperate and lost, I decided to drive to the spa/yoga studio, Hands in Harmony, where the class was to be held and ask for recommendations.

As I walked through the front door I was greeted kindly even though I was looking pretty ragged after 25 hours of travel and no sleep. I explained the situation to the girl at the front desk and the Owner overheard me. She jumped up and handed me a flyer for her AirBnB and immediately offered it. Wow, what an incredible blessing after so much drama! She told me it wasn’t listed yet because it needed a bit of paint, but it was clean, and beds were made. It was so cozy and so nice! To have a quiet space to study and relax was awesome! As a bonus, it backed up to a beautiful, huge park where I could exercise. I made a quick snack with the groceries I had picked up on the way and then snuggled into one of the comfiest beds I I have ever slept in. It hugged me and formed a little nest around my body as I drifted off into my best sleep in weeks!

The beautiful park!

Part 3: Exploring Iowa – The Vedic Community

After some rest and a quick run, I decided to head a couple of hours south to check out the Maharishi Vedic City, a utopian community started in the 50’s around the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation. From the little I had read it sounded like an interesting community with all the structures built on the Vedic principles to create “Heaven on Earth”. The architecture is grounded in the sun’s influence and based on the earth’s rotation and patterns in nature. The community is built in a mandala layout with community buildings and a Vedic observatory filled with special instruments to measure and locate various celestial bodies. Maharishi also follows a strict policy that all food bought and sold must be organic.

As I pulled into the first spoke of the mandala, a very eerie feeling washed over me. I drove down the little gravel road past the houses on the right to a deserted old building overlooking the observatory. There was absolutely no one around, the grounds were a bit overgrown, and several of the instruments were broken and in disrepair. After a quick walk, I drove back to the housing area to see what it was all about. The houses were neat and tidy, but the vibe was strange. There were a couple of people out walking who just stared and gave me puzzled looks. With that, I drove to the next spoke which housed the visitor center and only remaining spa, The Raj. Excited to speak with someone and learn more about what was going on in the community, I entered and walked up to the front desk. The receptionist was the only one around, and after waiting a good minute, she finally looked up and made eye contact. I explained that I was out for a training and was interested in seeing the community and learning more. She said, “huh”, and looked back down at her papers. With that, I walked around for a couple of minutes feeling uncomfortable before I left.

Feeling a bit confused after expecting a warm, welcoming community, I drove down the road to the nearby town of Fairfield, home of Maharishi University. I was hoping to find a cool community here, but again, got the eerie vibe and after a quick walk around the deserted square, headed out. I’m glad I visited and can now check that off my list!

Part 4: Sound Healer Training

Thursday night before training started, my instructor and two others hosted a beautiful, healing sound bath at a nature reserve. This was a perfect way to kickoff the weekend!

I woke up Friday morning excited that the day had finally arrived when I could start my sound healer training. I went for a walk, made a healthy breakfast, and headed over to the center. When I arrived, I was directed to a waiting room where I began meeting my new friends and fellow students. After we had a few minutes to chat, we were welcomed up to the training room where we met Natalie, our amazing instructor through the Sound Healing Academy. If you are interested in training, you can find her at or her Sounds Heal podcasts at  

The first day we talked about what sound healing is and how we can use it to help ourselves and others. It was so cool to learn how vibrations affect so many things within us and around us. Our first session focused on the Tibetan, or Himalayan Singing Bowls. There are around 50 different types of these bowls, but one type is common in practice today. After some practice with the brass/bronze bowls, we moved on to explore all different types of crystal bowls.

I believed crystal bowls had been around for some time, but they only became popular as a healing modality since the 1980’s when they were borrowed from the computer industry. Pure silicon quartz crystal bowls were used to grow pure silicon chips for computers. If the bowls had imperfections, they were discarded. Apparently, someone disposing of them realized they made incredible pure, healing sounds, and so was the birth of the crystal singing bowl!

On the second day, we explored weighted and non-weighted tuning forks and gongs. I was surprised by the impact of the small tuning forks and am excited to add them to my backpacking tools for my journey ahead. I have been obsessed with gongs since attending several gong baths over the past few years and was stoked to finally get the opportunity to try them myself. Although they are not a good tool for travel, I have set my intentions to acquire a couple once I find a place to settle for a bit.

Tuning forks for practice

For the last day, we played with drums, tingshas (small Tibetan symbols) and several fun percussion instruments. We also did some voice practice which was scary at first, but very calming and nice once the nerves got out of the way. Luckily, we had a great group of 11 women who all were open to trying new things! To round things out and conclude the in-person part of the class, we learned how to put a full session together and were able to practice with each other. I’m so glad I was called to do this training and make such wonderful connections! I can’t wait to finish the training and later move on to the level 2 classes!

Part 5: The journey back to Denver

And now for the final leg of the journey and the craziest part! On Monday morning, after confirming Amtrak was back up and running, I canceled my bus ticket, cleaned up the house, and headed back towards Burlington for my 5:30 PM train. When I got to the station, I received a message from Amtrak that the train was running about 30 minutes late and that the snack/bar car was removed due to lack of staff. Not ideal, but I was still much happier to be taking the train instead of the bus!

So, I hung out in the empty station doing laps to get some exercise and avoid the heat and humidity while carrying my bags around. Just after 6:00, I boarded the train headed for Denver. It was an older train than the one on the way out, but still not crowded and I had two seats with plenty of room to stretch out and move around. We rolled down the tracks and all was going well.

At about 3:45 AM they announced we’d be at the McCook, Nebraska station soon and everyone getting off should prepare for the brief stop. A few minutes later, the brakes locked up three or four times before we smelled a strong scent of burning rubber. Soon the train slowed to a stop and I got up to use the bathroom, passing several people waiting at the door to get off the train. Upon going back up to my seat, the attendant came through the car saying we all needed to close our curtains as there was a very sensitive scene outside and that we had hit someone on the tracks. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of the drama. The people stopping in McCook were unable to get off the train being we were still about a quarter mile from the station and not allowed to move. They were reseated and we waited for four hours as the emergency crews, etc. worked on the situation. We did not receive much information, but everyone sat quietly. Finally, we were given permission to move up to the station so we could all get out and get some air and some food at a nearby café or bakery.

Our time in McCook continued to be extended as we waited for a relief crew to arrive from Denver. During this time, we learned a 27-year-old girl from McCook was driving a U-Haul truck on the tracks. She was ejected upon impact and pronounced dead on the scene. The accident is still under investigation, but it seems odd she would be lost on the tracks being she was from the small town. This obviously shook up the crew and everyone on the train creating a somber mood around town as the word spread.

After about 8 hours, we were called back to the train and told we were cleared to leave. Everyone let out a sigh of relief, but soon as the conductor came back on the radio and said a train had broken down on the tracks in front of us and we would have to wait longer. About an hour later we were once again cleared to leave. Everyone cheered as the train finally pulled away from the station.

All was going well for about 15-20 minutes. The two attendants were talking with an older couple sitting behind me, as they wanted to get off at an earlier stop due to the delay. Suddenly, the brakes locked up 3-4 times and the smell of burning rubber returned. The female attendant said, “shit, it’s another emergency stop!!!” as she quickly took a seat. The other attendant quickly headed back to see what was happening as they were concerned we were in another accident. Luckily, when the conductor came back on the radio, he explained a hose had blown apart which they believed was caused by our earlier accident. About 45 minutes later, he and the engineer came back on the train saying they had put it back together and believed we would be okay until we got to Denver and a maintenance crew could look everything over. About an hour later we finally made it to Ft. Morgan, Colorado. Once everyone was off the train who was departing here, they announced we should be in Denver in about an hour and a half. Yippee…..until we came to another stop about 5 minutes later. This time they announced there were three maintenance areas ahead where we would have to stop to get special permission to pass through since we only had one engineer and one conductor now, instead of two.

Finally, a day late, we made it to Union Station in Denver. I walked to the light rail station and jumped on a train heading south so I could meet my parents who were waiting to pick me up. Of course, the light rail train made a couple of unexpected stops, and we were 30 minutes late to my final station. I was pretty tired and hungry after this crazy journey, but happy to finally be home! Wow!

Until next time, peace, hugs and love!


5 Replies to “Trains, Tingshas, and Trauma – My Journey to Cedar Rapids, Iowa”

  1. Wow! You have some amazing (and strange!) adventures. I am impressed with your open-mindedness and kindness with strangers. So glad you finally made it home safely. What a journey!

    Liked by 1 person

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