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.