Adventures Give Us Strength in the Wilderness of Grief

Author: Rachel Hunsell

When grief halts everything we once knew, we are asked to pause, reflect, and then rebuild. Planning and preparation are the gateway to discovering something new outside of who we are — learning to step into what we can become if we simply keep going. 

On TAPS Expeditions, we explore the wilderness of our earth and of our grief. We discover the ways in which they’re connected and in doing so find strength in the family that surrounds us. Each puzzle piece of the ecosystems we explore exists and thrives because it relies on the other pieces, as does each survivor on TAPS Expeditions

TAPS Survivors climb Mount KilimanjaroMount Kilimanjaro

No matter how much we plan and prepare, the unknown is still the monster that hides in the closet: What can I expect when the unexpected has already happened? How can I even begin to do this? 

TAPS Expeditions, which are self-funded trips into the wild, asks of travelers: 

  • What does it look like when we choose to keep going when everything in our mind and body tells us to stop? It looks like growth.
  • How are we changed when every morning we choose to wake up, lace up our boots, and put one foot in front of the other — even when it means walking on blistered feet and braving the elements of life?
  • What does it look like when a surviving mom walks alongside her fallen son’s best friend to reach the summit of a mountain? It looks like the courage to love and live again.
  • How does it feel to see a father and daughter choose joy and adventure after the loss of their son and brother? It feels like he’s right there by their side.
  • Who do we become as we paddle lakes and oceans and reconnect with our inner flow of thoughts and feelings? 

TAPS Expeditions set us on a path to find the answers. We prepare and train for, trek and travel to, fully immerse and experience the high altitude peaks of far off mountains and the moving waters of our National Parks and public lands, yet this is just the beginning of our journey. As one, we learn to navigate the wilderness of grief; step by step, paddle by paddle. Mothers and fathers. Brothers and sisters. Aunts, uncles and cousins. Children, grandparents and grandchildren. Battle buddies and friends. This is our TAPS family, and we build deep connection through challenge, learning how to support one another. 

Did you remember sunscreen this morning? Take my hand! Only a few more steps to go. Do you think we will make it from out here in the middle of the lake? Keep going. Don’t give up. We can see the summit, and I’m not going without you. 

On every trail, scramble and paddle, we begin to see how connected we truly are. When we choose to take another step, our fellow survivor can do the same. When we choose to keep going, we lighten the load for someone else. We are not in this alone and we are capable of far beyond what we know today. 


TAPS Survivors hike to Machu Picchu Machu Picchu

TAPS Survivors hike San Juan IslandsSan Juan Islands


In 2019, 66 survivors participated in seven expeditions in the United States and abroad. You can view photos from many of those adventures. In 2020, be on the lookout for opportunities to discover the world beyond your boundaries, where family is right by your side every step or paddle of the way. New in 2020 will be a coast-to-coast England trip in July. Details on that trip and applications will be coming early in the new year. To learn more, visit the TAPS Expeditions web page. 

Rachel Hunsell is TAPS Expeditions Coordinator and Surviving Sister of Lance Corporal J. Kyle Price.


What Survivors Said About 2019 Expeditions

"Other than when my daughter was born, this was the greatest experience of my life." ~ Surviving friend, Kilimanjaro

"I know I can do hard things. When I have rough days, I'll reflect back on this experience and know that if I did ‘that’ I can handle challenging emotions. Our guide told us that he gave us the tools to do the trek, but we did the work. That is kind of how TAPS is. They give us the tools, but we do the work. It takes both." ~ Machu Picchu traveler

"I came expecting to share a little about my story and hike a mountain. But what I got from it was a sense of purpose and a lot of closure that I didn’t know I needed. The days were long but it gave me so much pride after every day that we accomplished so much." ~ Surviving friend, Kilimanjaro

"I finally realized that it is OK to ask for help! Without the support from my team there is no way I would have made it to the summit. I relied on others to help aid my success — something I did not expect to happen." ~ Surviving spouse, Kilimanjaro

"This was an experience that peeled away some calluses and layers and exposed hearts and minds. I am so grateful that I decided to do this. In two short weeks I feel more along in my grief journey than I have in the past two years since my friend died." ~ Surviving friend, Kilimanjaro

"Because of this expedition, I have a more enhanced and sympathetic perspective to the struggles of surviving moms and I hope to use that to attempt to heal my relationship with my own mother. This experience helped me realize I am stronger both emotionally and physically than I give myself credit for."  ~ Surviving sibling, Joshua Tree

"When you experience loss you’re forced to carry a heavy burden you did not ask for. While hiking in the desert I was able to share that burden with my TAPS family for just a little while and I was able to remind myself how strong I am. I hiked into the desert scared and unsure and I hiked out of the desert feeling stronger and focused." ~ Surviving spouse, Joshua Tree

"As someone who hasn't hiked or camped much, I didn't feel like an outsider. The leaders were able to teach me in a way that I didn't feel judged. I also felt like I could do anything. At times when I doubted myself, everyone was there to cheer me on/motivate me to continue. I was very intentional about talking to my brother on the trail and he got me through my toughest moments. To be quite honest, this expedition is the closest I've felt to him since his death almost 18 years ago." ~ Surviving sibling, Machu Picchu