Dan and Hannah, Stem Cells and Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia

KM map of atlanta

Nine days ago, in late October 2017, Hannah and I flew to Atlanta from Boston (900 miles) for an experimental procedure of stem cell injections for Hannah, a long shot attempt to make her voice stronger after 15 years of spasmodic dysphonia.  After landing in the Peach State, she called Julie, the nurse practitioner at Superior Healthcare, to let her know that we were on our way to the clinic at Sandy Springs, GA for Hannah’s 1P appointment.

Uber-apologetic, Julie told Hannah that her stem cells, which are frozen and stored in a stem cell bank in Florida, had not arrived as promised that day.  Alas, we had no appointment.  But we had Julie.

She set up another appointment for today (a Thursday) and had the stem cell bank cover our flight, lodging, car rental, and gas expenses for our return trip.  With a free afternoon that Tuesday past, we hiked up and around Stone Mountain to the east of Atlanta.   Click here for the link to last week’s blog about that hike.

KM Superior Healthcare sign

Fast forward nine days.  Driving in the predawn dark from home on the coast of Maine, we have few others on the road down I-95, then route 1 to Boston.  Soon, we are in the air on our non-stop 620A Jet Blue flight to Atlanta.

Upon arrival, Hannah’s text to Julie confirms that Hannah’s stem cells are indeed ready and waiting for her at another Superior Healthcare clinic in Canton, GA, 50 miles north of the airport in Atlanta.

Arriving 25 minutes early for Hannah’s 1130A appointment, we see Julie in scrubs coming out of another procedure; she spots us, flashes her light-up-the-room smile, and says with joy, It’s déjà vu.  Do you feel like you’ve just been here?  We are home.

KM 1B Hannah's x-rays

X-rays of Hannah’s knees

Over the next hour and a half, Hannah has the intrathecal injection of stem cells into her spine, and later two more in her knees.  On a computer screen, we see x-rays of both of Hannah’s knees (to the right); the top picture is from her first (May 2017) stem cell injection and the bottom x-ray was taken today (November 2017).  The increased space between her knee and tibia shows the growth of cartilage due to the stem cells.  Do note the titanium screws still doing their job below her knee; these were inserted after a water skiing accident five years ago.

KM 1A Dan's x-rays 2

X-rays of Dan’s knees (bottom x-ray from May and the top in November)

Since I had had stem cell injections in both knees as well that May day, Julie x-rays my knees to check the growth of cartilage.  Since my cartilage wasn’t as far gone as Hannah’s, my growth hasn’t been as great.  Even so, I am feeling nimbler on the pickleball court five months later.  Julie notes the improved tracking of my right patella (knee cap).

KM 1C Han and Julie

Hannah and Julie

For relationship-focused individuals like Hannah and me, the personal touch by medical professionals matters greatly.  Eighteen months ago, Hannah had voice rehabilitation training in Tampa with a woman with whom Hannah just didn’t connect, and ultimately didn’t believe in.  Julie connects.  We know there are no guarantees that stem cells will strengthen Hannah’s voice, but we believe in Julie and the possibilities.

KM 2 H at start of trail

With an entire 75F afternoon to ourselves, we opt to hike at the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, just north of Atlanta.  Two years ago, we hiked here in the rain when we came to Georgia to hike our 14th and final Appalachian Trail state.  Click here for the blog to our first climb of Kennesaw Mountain in the rain as well as some background of the Civil War battle that took place here.

KM 4B H atop little KM

Finding the last parking spot at 2P on a Thursday, we talk to the ranger about the six-mile Kennesaw Mountain Loop Trail.  With 600’ of elevation to Big Kennesaw Mountain, we climb it, descend, and then climb Little Kennesaw Mountain.  From there, it’s some four miles of mostly downhill back to the Visitor Center.

KM 4B D and H at little KM cannon

It’s déjà vu for us as we remember the rocky climbs, the views south to Atlanta, and the Civil War cannons still in place.  By the way, it took 100 men to drag these cannons up the rocky slopes.

As we hike, we step on, over, and around sharp angled rocks on the up and down mountain trail.  Surprised by the many fellow hikers on a midweek afternoon, we can see the appeal of this forest oasis in the midst of suburban Atlanta that stretches as far as the eye can see.

KM 5 D on rocky trail

Approaching the half-way point, we have a country fire road of soft dirt beneath the forest canopy for our return to the trailhead.  Passing hikers making the nearly six-mile loop in the other direction, we see young women and men running the hilly, undulating trail.  Dan and Hannah, circa 1992!

KM 5A H on fire road home

Two and a quarter hours after leaving the trailhead, we complete the 5.8 miles of the Kennesaw Mountain Loop Trail.  Pleased with this bonus afternoon of hiking thanks to the snafu of nine days ago, we are not surprised that our 30-mile late afternoon drive to our Quality Inn through Atlanta is congested; it’s not Washington, DC commuter crazy, but we do slow drive between 20 to 30 mph.

Toasting our overnight adventure to the South, we treat ourselves to a fine merlot, but… Hannah can’t finish her glass of wine as the Lidocaine painkiller from the afternoon injection is wearing off and the Tylenol has yet to kick in.  Overnight, sleep for Hannah comes but mostly goes.

KM quality inn

After a mostly sleepless night for Hannah, we leave the Quality Inn in our rental car at 520A for our 7A Jet Blue flight back to Boston; we have no idea that we have forgotten one of our carry-ons.   And now I have, a what would you do question.

KM enterprise

Dropping off our Nissan Sentra at the Enterprise location about 530A, we get checked out, and then realize that we’d left our cooler bag of food back at the Quality Inn three miles away.

Mentioning this to the attendant, he asks when our flight is, and concludes that we can make it back to our Quality Inn in ten minutes, and be back for our early morning flight.  At the Quality Inn, I jump out, get the bag, and Paul (Hannah learns his name through her engaging front seat conversation with him) takes us directly to the Jet Blue Terminal; we save time by not taking the Sky Train from the Rental Car Center.  We easily make our flight.

You tell me, what do we tip him?  $5? (a muffin and coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts)  $10?  (enough to take a friend to Dunkin’ Donuts)  $100 (just blow him out of the water and give him a story to tell forever).  What do you think?   Decide and then scroll down for our decision.

KM 2A D on trail

Trail up Kennesaw Mountain

 

KM KM map

We hiked the trail marked in red from the Visitor Center.  The elevation of the trail is represented across the bottom of the map.

 

The right tip for us is $20.  (Though the blow-him-out-of-the-water tip is gaining traction for future such events).

We thank Paul for something he didn’t have to do but smilingly did.  Southern hospitality in action!  Once home, I see is an additional $7 charge on our Enterprise bill.  Considering the gas and Paul’s time, it seems like a bargain.

A few days later that charge is wiped from our credit card statement.  We love us some Enterprise!

KM tipping

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Dan and Hannah Hike Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

On a mission to hike our 14th of 14 AT states, Hannah and I fly to Atlanta to hike the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain, Georgia this first week of October.  This flying Saturday is problematic as Hurricane Joaquin is off the coast but pumping up to 20 inches of rain into nearby South Carolina.  As it turns out Delta never blinks and gets us to Atlanta ahead of schedule.

KM Delta

No truer words have been spoken than Delta is ready when you are.  I had no idea the new Delta has more space above the seats for carry-on luggage.  Which is sweet for us who haven’t checked bags in ten years, even for two week trips to California.   While ESPN beams from the TV in front of my seat for our 2+ hour flight, I think where would we be if we were driving to Georgia from Maine?   Hmmmm, it turns out we’d be somewhere in Jersey, 850 miles from Atlanta.

KM Hartsfield Jackson

As the biggest airport in the United States, Hartfield-Jackson in Atlanta has us walking long wide corridors towards the shuttle train that takes us to the rental car center away from the airport.  Along the way we see a couple in their 50s holding hands laughing and sparkling; so in love with each other.  Classic second marriage!  So appreciative and happy at a second chance for the best that love can be.  They remind me that we first marriage folks got to step up our games and exube (verb form of exuberance) our love day in and day out.

KM 1 D at sign

Surprised that there is no rain here in Atlanta when 100 miles away the deluge is inundating the Palmetto State, we start rethinking our plans for this travel Saturday.   With just a light intermittent mist in the area, we learn that our need to hike can be satisfied just three miles from our Comfort Inn at the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.

KM 1B H on trail

Going from Kennesaw strip mall craziness to rural forests in a matter of ten minutes, we learn at the Visitor Center that it’s a 700 feet elevation gain over the first mile of the trail to the top of Kennesaw Mountain.  Checking the Weather Channel app on my iPhone, I learn that the chance of precipitation over the next two hours is 30-40%.  Dismissing these odds as the weather folk covering their butts, we forego our ponchos on this muggy 64F degree late afternoon.   Please!  What’s the worst that can happen?   We get soaked within a mile or two of our car.

KM 1C D on trail

The ranger at the desk gives us an excellent detailed map of a six mile hiking loop.  Sounding perfect at 330P, the six mile trail will motivate us to maintain a steady pace on a day in these hills and mountains of Georgia, the home of our 39th president and humanitarian, Jimmy Carter.

Trail to Kennesaw Mountain

Trail to Kennesaw Mountain

On this Saturday the parking lot is nearly full of Georgians, a hearty lot, who have taken to the trails despite the threat of rain.   As the mistiness begins, the hike to Kennesaw Mountain is a steady, rocky climb with many granite steps for our hiking pleasure.

 

The Kennesaw Mountain Battle in 1864 was one of the last “victories” of the Confederacy months before Sherman’s devastating March to the Sea from Atlanta to Savannah.

 

KM 3D more of trail

Our one mile climb to the top of Kennesaw Mountain takes 25 minutes and we begin to wonder about the wisdom of hiking the entire six mile loop.  In an act of maturity, which is no small feat for the two of us who think that a good day on vacation is hiking three to four hours, we opt for hiking just to Little Kennesaw Mountain, 1.8 miles into the 6 mile loop.

KM 3C rocky trail

Hiking down to a gap between the two mountains and then up to Little Kennesaw Mountain with its still very rocky trail, we are feeling righteously smug that we didn’t choose to do the macho hike and be Les Miserables.

Still looking good in the rain!

Still looking good in the rain!

 

As we summit Little Kennesaw Mountain, the valley below opens up, but the mist we have had through much of the hike becomes steady light rain; we U-turn for the trailhead.   In the light rain, I shoot this video of the trail to give you an idea of our afternoon in Georgia.

 

Surprised, that despite the rain, Georgians keep coming our way; we see couples, groups of guys, and single women not bothered by the steady precipitation.  Three male runners are using this climb as a training workout; one young man with a full pack runs past us going up and then later coming down the mountain.

KM 4 D and H preview

Meeting a couple just a few years younger than we are with their pooch, we learn that they hike this mountain every weekend.  She adds, We aren’t gone to melt if it rains.

As we hike on back to the trailhead in steady light rain, we find we don’t melt either.  And by the way, who knew 30-40% meant it actually could rain?

 

 

Travel tip – If you only carry-on luggage when you fly, consider requesting a seat in the back of the plane.  In our experience, airlines load from the back after they board their high paying customers.  By selecting a seat in the back and boarding earlier, we have a better chance to stow our bags above the seats rather than be forced to check them at the gangway and be delayed when we arrive at our destination.