About Me

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PCT 2009 – Northern California with lichen bracelet

My name is Jennifer “Lion Heart” Smart and I am a thyroid cancer survivor. And it turns out that I love to hike long distances. This hasn’t always been the case. Other than a few backpacking trips as a kid into the Sierra, me, mountains and walking weren’t really a thing. I played a little soccer but I was the kid sitting behind the piano or violin practicing my little heart out.

I grew up in the forested mountains outside Ukiah, California on a 100-acre homestead. Certainly, this unique experience shaped my love and appreciation for nature. I’ve earned degrees in music management and geology plus a geoscience teaching credential. But there’s got to be something better than all that right? When I haven’t been teaching, I’ve been building bicycle culture in Ukiah through our First Friday Community Bike Ride, Safe Routes to Schools programs and the newly created Ukiah Bicycle Kitchen.

In October 2006, while living in Arcata, California, I was diagnosed with papillary/follicular thyroid cancer. I made numerous twelve hour round-trip (driving) treks to UCSF for my complete thyroidectomy, RAI treatment and all follow-up bloodwork and imaging tests. The radioactive iodine treatment zapped my immune system and for a whole year I was sicker than a dog. The long lasting gift is that I am now a humbled allergy sufferer. In 2008 I launched my active life and recovery process by doing the 20 mile round trip commute between Arcata and Eureka by bicycle.

I first hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2009. Then I hiked the PCT again in 2013. Right after the question of whether or not I’d read Wild, was the #2 day-hiker question of “Why Again?” I always joked about loving the pain but I hiked to heal from a broken marriage, to help raise money for Thyca and to spend more memorable moments with the beloved PCT hiking community. My 2013 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike was dedicated to creating awareness about thyroid cancer and helping to provide resources to past, present and future thyroid cancer patients.

Hiking the PCT has created in me a strong sense of self, peace and a need for the next adventure. Perhaps it’s just a pipe dream at this point, but I plan to hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in 2015 and the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2016. And despite having logged over 4,600 miles on the PCT, I hope to be treading North on the PCT’s “narrow ribbon of space-time” in 2017 for my 40th birthday. No matter where my footprints fall or my bicycle tires roll, I believe in treading lightly on this planet and honoring my connection to all things.

20 thoughts on “About Me

  1. HI Jennifer,
    My name is Wendy and I live in Ashland OR. I just read about you on the thyca website. I too was diagnosed with thyca in 2006 and UCSF is one of the institutions I am being treated at. If you need a stopover when you come through Ashland, or a ride to town to resupply or anything and I am here I would really like to help.
    Wow, this will be your second time making this trip, amazing and so great. I am sure you have and will have many more stories to tell.
    Good Luck to you. I will read more on this site and also sponsor you.
    Wendy

  2. May your journey be safe and pleasantly eventful. I will be watching your website for updates.

    Joanne Wells (Texas)
    Papillary Thyroid T.T. 3/29/2011

  3. Jennifer,

    I just signed up to follow your PCT treck beginning at the end of April. Can’t wait to get your emails along the way. I too am thankful to ThyCa for wonderful help after I was slated for thyroid surgery, and then removal after cancer was found. That was in 2011. Mine was papillary follicular varient, gotten early when my primary care physician (first time seeing her), said “I feel a slight swelling here.” So thankful for her. I’ll be praying for you all the way.

  4. Hi, I’m in Santa Rosa CA and am a survivor as well (papillary, 2011). I’d love to hike with you or support you when you’re in the area…

    Lance G.

    1. Hi Lance! Thanks for the message and support! We should get together or chat more via email. You can message me pctlionheart[at]gmail[dot]com. I’m not sure when yet but I’ll probably be making a trip to Santa Rosa in the next few weeks.

  5. Thank you for bringing awareness to our little heard of Thyca. You doing such an inspirational journey. Keep on trekking and know that, I’m sure, you have the support of all us Thyca’s out there!!

    Stephanie from Bakesfield
    Pap 1/04

  6. Hi Jen, I hope your toe is better! I will be watching your hiking page for updates. Best Wishes!

    Nancy (thyroid cancer 1994)

  7. Hi Jennifer,
    I too love all things ‘nature’ and outdoor activities. Thyroid Cancer forced me to put aside my running shoes and marathon running in 2010. But opened the door to biking, when I couldn’t run. And I LOVE it…even in Michigan, I bike all year round. I’ve pondered ‘my experience’ and am truly envious and in total admiration of yours. I now run and bike ‘cancer-free’ but dream of my next new adventure. You’ve inspired me! I love long, hard goals (hence, marathons) but your journey is amazing! I would have loved to taken every step with you. Keep us posted!

  8. HI Jennifer. We just left you off at Elk Lake and are hoping you and KPAK are enjoying the Oregon Cascades. Don and I look up at the sky and see the threatening clouds and hope you are OK and dry. We enjoyed our time with you so much. It was a gift to us. Best wishes and good travels. Bev in Bend

  9. Lion Heart- I hope you are tucked safely back at home after having finished your trek. Snickers and i have been trying to keep our eyes out for the finishers. Wished we could have had more time to connect on the trail. Veggie

  10. Hi,

    I was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and I had some questions about how you deal with Levothyroxine in the back country. Specifically, I’m concerned about the temperature sensitivity on multiday treks, and I was wondering what (if anything) you do to keep the pills from spoiling.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Mark! I take my levothyroxine every morning when I wake. It’s a little tough when the real hunger sets it, but I break camp and hike about an hour or so before I stop to eat breakfast. I’ve never had any troubles with pills spoiling. My body is only happy in a very small temperature window so being on the trail is a constant temperature challenge. My body struggles to self regulate it’s temperature so I always have numerous layers ready. The hardest part is the cold since my body is already on the cold side. After enduring several hypothermic days in Northern Washington, I’m making a few changes for when the weather gets cold, like low 30’s and below. I’m adding a long sleeve shirt for hiking, 0F sleeping quilt and an Xtherm sleeping pad. Thanks for the questions and send me an email anytime if you have more questions. pctlionheart (AT) gmail.com

  11. I saw you “like” a comment i made on another blog. Glad you did, as now i’ve discovered your blog! Wow, how awesome that you hike and keep active after the trials and tribulations you’ve had in the past. Looking forward to following your CDT! Its my dream to do the PCT one day… But with a 2 year old at home it might be at least 16 years til i get my chance! Best of luck with your hike!

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