In 2015, Joy Ryan had never seen an ocean, desert, mountain, or major river. Then 85 and widowed for 20 years, she was living a quiet life in Duncan Falls, Ohio. But that all changed when she found an unlikely adventure partner: Her grandson, Brad.
Brad Ryan knew his grandmother had regrets about not traveling more. After he thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in college, he told CBS, his grandmother expressed “amazement” and told him that she would have liked to have tried camping too. But it wasn’t until his last year of veterinary school, after he lost a friend to suicide, that Brad decided they had waited long enough.
"I thought, 'You know what, I need something to fill my cup right now. I want my grandma to have this experience.,” he told the network. “So, we took a very impromptu three-day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains up Park."
The trip was such a success that the pair resolved to visit all 61 US National Parks. So in 2017, with the help of a GoFundMe, the pair hit the road. During that first trip, they set foot in 21 national parks, including Badlands, Glacier, Mount Rainier, and Yosemite, in just 28 days.
Today, Grandma Joy is 89 years old, and she’s seen 49 parks—every single one in the Lower 48. She and Brad have seen elk, humpback whales, grizzlies and moose (her favorite animal: the humble prairie dog). And they’re not done yet: In December, they plan to hit the road again with the goal of ticking off Alaska and Hawaii’s parks.
Grandma says that her Grandson is her “best friend and my buddy” according to Today.com. She hopes that her journey will inspire older people, encouraging them to travel.
“Treasures are hidden in these parks. Every park is different and every park has a different treasure,” she told St. Louis’s Fox 2 after visiting Gateway Arch. “Never wait to do tomorrow what you can do today.”