It was 95 degrees in the middle of the Mojave Desert and Matt Hadnett was out of water.
“We’re just sitting there, arguing. We’re at each other’s throats. It was the worst day,” Hadnett recollected of the moment where he and his hiking companion nearly called it quits.
That was before a man in a camper, a trail angel, came to the rescue, bringing a refrigerator, shower, bathroom and more.
“I went from I don’t ever want to hike again to this is the greatest day of my life,” Hadnett explained.
The Redondo Beach resident has had many moments like this is the last 20 years as he has trekked the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650 mile odyssey from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington.
While some hikers do the trail straight through, Hadnett, a mortgage broker with his own company, returned every year for the last two decades—with the exception of 2008 when the housing market crashed—picking up where he left off.
“I’m extremely goal-oriented and if I start something, I’m going to finish it no matter what,” he said of his decision to keep returning.
When Hadnett started the Trail in August of 1998, the then 32-year-old had just wed his wife, Dana, purchased a house the year before and was about to be a new father.
At the beginning, he admitted, it was really just about having fun with friends.
“When I started, it was just a bunch of dumb guys like ‘why don’t we go do this?’ We didn’t even know what it was,” Hadnett said, noting the young hikers had no idea what they were doing in the beginning. “When we first started, there is this picture of us...wearing hiking boots, cotton socks, cotton shorts, cotton shirts, baseball hats...super heavy backpacks. Everything wrong.”
But with each year he returned to the Trail, Hadnett gained more wisdom and experience.
“Every year something would happen,” Hadnett said, sharing memories of eating dehydrated meals and having his sweat-soaked clothing eaten by deer. “It’s almost like I have so much experience doing it now, it’s kind of easy.”
His decision to continue the journey was also about a bucket list.
Hadnett had written down a list of all the life goals he wanted to achieve in 1988. He has kept the original list and dated each item as he’s achieved it.
As of August 29, 2019, the now 53-year-old and father of three was able to cross one major item off his docket: completing the Pacific Crest Trail.
“I got there and didn’t know what to do,” Hadnett said of the moment he reached the trail end marker in Canada, three wooden sculptures to signify he has finished his journey. “I gave it a big huge and a kiss. Then I got all emotional...but it was like 20 years. It’s done.”
The experience came with innumerable memories: some beautiful and others downright frightening.
“I think one of the scariest moments was my buddy and I got separated from each other for about six and a half to seven hours,” Hadnett explained of a time near Mount Lassen, the southernmost area of the Cascade Mountain Range which he was near during 2009.
“When he finally caught up with me...right before the sun was going down, we were so worried about each other that as soon as we figured out what happened, we were so mad at one another,” he said.
Hadnett also described favorite moments on the Trail, such as hiking the John Muir Trail in the High Sierra portion of the PCT in 2006, where he and his companion had mailed food to themselves at the Muir Trail Ranch.
“Have you ever heard of Dinty Moore Beef Stew?” Hadnett inquired. “My buddy had mailed that to himself as a surprise for me. So he busted out this can of stew...we ate it out in a field with natural hot springs...It’s not dehydrated, that was the greatest thing ever.”
Another standout moment was seeing Crater Lake in south-central Oregon in 2012.
“You’re hiking in the middle of the forest and all of the sudden this thing just opens up and it’s just breathtaking,” Hadnett reminisced. “Everything on the trail is beautiful but there’s very few things that are that majestic.”
But, the greatest thing about the Trail?
A newfound appreciation for the simple things in life, according to Hadnett.
“It just dawned on me that everything about this life is awesome and you don’t really appreciate it until it’s all gone,” he mused. “You don’t appreciate how great it is to have an ice cube in your drink or to have your family with you.”
His wife, Dana, said her husband always returned from his excursions with a palpable gratitude for life and that made it easy for her to continually support his endeavor.
“When he’s away, he’s completely away, off the grid. But when he comes back, he’s very focused on life’s priorities with the family and our marriage - what’s really important,” she said. “So even though it’s hard to have him gone for a long period of time, I almost came to welcome it because when he comes back, he’s a new man.”