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Member Profile: Gilbert Plascencia, CPA

by Luke Thompson | Feb 22, 2018
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Many outdoors enthusiasts look to nature to connect with others or to learn more about themselves. While hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, Gilbert Plascencia, CPA, found solitude and formed strong bonds with fellow hikers. Spending time in a different environment offered a new perspective he won’t soon forget. “You remove all the extra stuff,” Plascencia said. “Politics, religion, whatever it is out there. When you’re on the trail, that’s all gone and you just have the same common goal and that unites you and it creates a bigger community.”

Gilbert Plascencia enjoys his life in Yakima, where he found success, friendship, and fulfillment in his chosen career as a CPA. This past summer brought opportunities to venture out to explore new trails, when Plascencia decided to hike the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail.

Plascencia was inspired to hike the PCT in 2009, mesmerized by stories from a hiker he met. From then on, the audit manager and CPA at Alegria & Company always listed the PCT as one of his long-term goals. His colleagues encouraged him to pursue his adventure. He saved up vacation time and decided 2017 would be the perfect year.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

Months of study and planning with help from family and friends left the avid runner feeling optimistic when he began his journey on May 12, despite the fact he’d never gone backpacking for longer than two days in his life. But it wouldn’t be long before he faced serious obstacles — both mentally and physically.

Ambitious plans to cover significant ground each day in the California desert unraveled amid relentless heat—temperatures reaching 110 degrees—and painful blisters on the bottom of Plascencia’s feet. Those struggles tested his willpower until his feet hardened about 400 miles into the trail.

Basic necessities like food, sleep, and water are scarce in the wilderness in the southern California desert, the high Sierra Mountains, and the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest. Those obstacles became even more challenging in the “Year of Fire and Ice”, named for excessive wildfires and snow.

Meanwhile, other concerns kept Plascencia’s thoughts back home, where he’d taken his mother, Maria Lopez, to the doctor to check out a lump prior to leaving for California. Tests confirmed the presence of stage III breast cancer, but she encouraged Plascencia to continue his long-awaited journey.

“All throughout the trail, I knew that could be a possibility, that I would have to leave the trail to come back home,” Plascencia said. “Luckily it never happened. I was really thankful and grateful for that.”

Along with the extra worry, the illness gave him motivation to fight through adversity, just as his mother was doing back home. When Plascencia hit deep snow and impassable creek crossings in the high Sierras, he trudged onward with his new hiking friends, going off trail to find a way forward.

“It was a lot of work,” Plascencia said. “It was exhausting, but it was by far the most rewarding experience of the whole trail, just because of the beauty of the snow-covered mountains and seeing that immense power of Mother Nature.”

Plascencia picked up his pace in northern California, hiking more than 30 miles per day before reaching the wildfires that forced him to skip 200 miles of closed trail and obscured the scenery of Washington and Oregon. Friends helped him navigate closures to reach his family at Trout Lake on Sept. 3.

Plascencia then began feeling homesick with only two weeks remaining. On September 15, Plascencia reached the monument at the northern terminus in Canada, ending the day with 47 miles before he went to sleep. His relief transformed into pure elation as he hiked back to the bus stop in Mazama.

“All this emotion started rushing through my head,” Plascencia said. “I was either full-on crying or laughing, smiling so hard, or yelling that I was done.”

Returning Home

Returning home to a more familiar life can be difficult in the wake of a long, rewarding journey. Plascencia lost 68 pounds during his hike and self-reflection gave him confidence in the direction of his life, but he still faced some challenges.

“It’s been an adjustment to find meaning in my old lifestyle and what I used to do before,” Plascencia said. “It’s coming back. I’ll get there.”

Glad to be back around family, he takes his mother to chemotherapy every week, where she’s doing well as she prepares for surgery. Plascencia’s experience left him anxious to teach his family what he learned exploring the outdoors. Along the PCT, he noticed a lack of diversity with hikers skewing overwhelmingly white. He wonders how he could help break down racial and socioeconomic barriers.

“I would like to either find a program that’s already established or create a program where I would be able to lead hiking excursions, whether it be one day or extended backpacking trips for people with limited resources,” Plascencia said. “It doesn’t have to be specifically people of color.”

Those trips would not only allow kids to enjoy nature; Plascencia also wants to teach them their responsibilities in taking care of public lands. Next year, he plans to invite his 12 nieces and nephews on hiking and backpacking trips to see how they react to a more structured, informative program.

Luke Thompson is the Outdoors and Sports reporter for the Yakima Herald. You can reach him at lthompson@yakimaherald.com.

Reprinted from the November 2017 Yakima Herald with permission. This article appeared in the winter 2018 issue of the WashingtonCPA Magazine. Read more here.

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