Nearing the finish line on a goal they once thought was impossible, 41-year-old Brad Ryan and his 92-year-old grandmother, Joy Ryan, will visit all 63 U.S. national parks together. In October 2015, when Brad was looking for a way to spend a three-day weekend during veterinary school, the duo from Duncan Falls, Ohio, actually kicked off their adventure. The idea was sparked by a conversation he had with “Grandma Joy” about his past adventures on the Appalachian Trail, he said.
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“I felt bad that she was always living vicariously through my stories. And so just knowing that she had never seen deserts and mountains and the ocean and these incredible wild places on Earth, it just felt like a responsibility that I had to her to make sure that she had some memories to take away in her life story as well,” Brad told “GMA.”
Anticipating it would be their only excursion together, Brad invited his grandma on a weekend trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “You don’t assume going into that that your 85-year-old grandmother going with you on a camping trip is going to be anything less than challenging. That was my fault. That was my misperception of what age means and more importantly, what her spirit would allow her to do,” said Brad.
“I’ve always tried to be positive in my life and it didn’t hurt to try something once. I didn’t want to have to regret the next day that you didn’t do it,” said Grandma Joy.
Today, they boast nearly 58k followers on Instagram, as in 2019 Brad began documenting their adventures on Instagram and Facebook to the account @GrandmaJoysRoadtrip, and they quickly acquired a large following. Grandma Joy said: “We didn’t expect that. He just put that on the social media so the people back home in Duncan Falls knew what we were doing.”
“Grandma Joy, and her grandson Brad, are an inspiration to us all,” said Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, the National Parks Services Chief of Public Affairs and Chief Spokesperson. “National parks are best enjoyed with the people we love, and it is clear to see that Joy and Brad share a special bond, which has been strengthened by their time traveling together,” said Anzelmo-Sarles.
“All we could do was hope that things would change and that those opportunities would still be there and then be grateful for everything that we had been able to do and see up until that point,” said Brad. Grandma Joy and Brad embarked on one of their wildest adventures yet in July 2021, which was visiting the eight National Parks of Alaska. On their visit, they went white water rafting down class three rapids, hiking near glaciers and fjords, and they have also crossed a wild animal encounter off Grandma Joy’s bucket list, said ABC News.
“I always wanted to see the bears get the fish and I finally got to see it. And it was fun, it really was,” said Grandma Joy. Grandma Joy and Brad are almost able to hang up their hiking boots after years of planning and traveling as there is just one national park left to visit and explore for the duo, which is the National Park of American Samoa which is over 6,700 miles from their home town of Duncan Falls.
Brad said completing their extraordinary feat will be “bittersweet,” as they are looking forward to the day they visit their final park. “It’s been a grand adventure, it really has. It’s really been a beautiful, beautiful time. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Grandma Joy said. “We realize that not everybody is going to be able to travel to every U.S. National Park. But there is some adventure to be found in every corner of the country and we hope that people will go out and seek that adventure,” said Brad in the hope to encourage everyone to seek out opportunities for exploration.
Photo: Youtube video screencap