Instructor Spotlight: Elena Mederas and Dana Kirk

Jordan Carr27 Feb, 2023

Our students will agree that Adventure Treks instructors are pretty incredible people. From planning 30-person meals for 30 days to fixing broken tent zippers to tending wounds to making sure we’re in the right place at the right time, AT instructors are constantly working to make sure our students are having the best and most fun summer program possible. This passion for empowering teenagers’ personal growth, fostering a fun and cohesive community, and exploring beautiful places with new friends is what makes our instructor team so strong and impactful.

Because our instructors are at the heart and soul of the Adventure Treks experience, we’d love for you to get to know them a little better. How did they end up at AT? What do they do in their free time? What are some fun facts people don’t know about them? We interviewed two of our summer 2022 instructors and are happy to share more about their lives below!

Elena Mederas

What’s your favorite memory from last year’s Adventure Treks trips? There were so many spectacular sights and memories from the last season, but there was nothing quite like stargazing on the steep slopes of a volcano. Our group started our hike up Mt. St. Helens through forests at the base of the mountain at around 2 a.m. and only caught glimpses of the stars through the leaves—but once we moved past the tree line, there was a huge expanse of cloudless sky above us. We gazed up in awe at the blazing stars, spent time identifying constellations, and spotted four planets as well: Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars! I loved the feeling of being so small in the immensity of the universe—and felt so lucky that we could all be experiencing that moment together.

Do you have any exciting life plans for the near future? I moved to England for the winter and have been getting accustomed to living in a new place! So far, I’ve been spending my time planning backpacking and climbing trips with my partner (we recently braved a weekend backpacking trip on the frosty moorlands of Dartmoor National Park), frequenting music shows in cozy pubs, becoming a regular at the local climbing gym, and haunting downtown cafes to work on graduate school applications. I’m looking forward to the spring adventures to come!

What is a book or article you’ve read recently that really stuck with you? A friend and local author from my hometown recently gifted me a copy of a book he wrote called Quiet Teachers. The short story was about a person who felt lost and lonely until they went outside and contemplated the trees, pinecones, birds, and clouds—all of whom shared their own tidbits of wisdom on how to live a meaningful life. On the final page of the book was a handwritten note: “Find your inside, outside in Nature.” I felt so moved by the message and story; it made me feel like life isn’t so complex after all. Like the little chickadee sang from the branches, all you need to do are a few simple things: “Know what you need and where you want to be. Then just work at it, work at it, work at it.”

Fun fact about Elena: I’m both a U.S. and Costa Rican citizen and have family living in both countries!

Dana Kirk

What initially made you pursue work as an outdoor educator? I wanted to be able to impact students and work outside, exploring new adventures while pouring into other people’s lives. What I didn’t realize was how backcountry time is different from everyday life. My co-instructors and I would say backcountry time is five days normal time and front country is three days normal, meaning time in the woods is different. The connections you build are deeper, your the mind feels free and full of vision, your body feels awake and excited. I love watching students experience this and getting to be a part of it.

What’s your favorite memory from last year’s Adventure Treks trips? On the Lost Coast backpacking trip in California, we made too much rice, even after everyone took an extra bite to help “pack out” less weight. We decided we could give it to one of the other groups in passing. The students took the bag of rice and wrote funny inside jokes, encouraging comments, and notes on the bag and came up with a plan to sneak it into the other group’s gear in passing.

What do you do when not working at Adventure Treks? I teach art to kindergarteners all the way through eighth grade. I coach middle school girls’ soccer, I am a co-athletic director for the elementary and middle school, and I am involved in my church. For fun I like to mountain bike, climb, snowboard, hike, paint, throw pottery, swing and line dance, and bake.

What are you hoping to learn over the next year? I want to grow in engaging my story; learning how to use my story and life to be able to encourage others in theirs. That includes being OK with the mundane of life and experiencing each moment life has to offer for what it is—to grow in not worrying about my future but taking one experience at a time.


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