A grandson who has set out to visit all 61 US National Parks with his 89-year-old grandma has revealed that the epic journey has given him ‘a purpose in life’.
Veterinarian Brad Ryan and Joy Ryan, both from Zanesville, Ohio, have so far visited 29 national parks since they set off on their quest in 2015 and Grandma Joy, who had previously never glimpsed the sea or even a mountain, has now ‘seen more of America than a majority of Americans ever will’.
Brad, 38, says he and Grandma Joy became estranged after his parents’ divorce a decade ago and it was only after they started to reconnect that he learned how much she regretted never seeing the world – and an idea was born.
Adventure of a lifetime: Brad Ryan with Grandma Joy in the epic Yosemite National Park
Grandma Joy is all smiles in the other-worldly Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Veterinarian Brad Ryan and Joy Ryan, both from Zanesville, Ohio, have so far visited 29 national parks since they set off on their quest in 2015. Grandma Joy is pictured here in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Here’s Grandma Joy in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was the first national park she visited with Brad
Brad explained that during a conversation about hiking, Grandma Joy said that she wished she had experienced more of the great outdoors throughout her life.
He told MailOnline Travel: ‘My grandfather, who died two decades ago, was the breadwinner for their family, so Grandma Joy was happy to let him make all their travel plans while he was alive. Grandma Joy joined him on winter fishing trips to Lake Okeechobee [in Florida] after he retired, but she never saw the mountains. She never traveled west.
‘When I processed what she told me, I remember thinking that I would never forgive myself if she died alone in Ohio without seeing the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the many iconic landscapes of America. A seed was planted.’
Arches National Park in Utah, pictured, is characterised by over 2,000 natural sandstone arches
Bring me sunshine: Grandma Joy enjoys a Grand Canyon sunrise during her epic road trip
Grandma Joy at the Redwood National and State Parks in California (left). The image on the right shows her at Yellowstone National Park in Montana
So far Brad and Grandma Joy have driven 25,000 miles. Here they are in Acadia National Park in Maine
Brad says that Grandma Joy is ‘inspiring people her age to get out of their rocking chairs and explore’. She’s pictured here in Yellowstone National Park
Their first trip was to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Brad said: ‘In September 2015 I was going through a dark time during my fourth year of veterinary school. I wanted to get away to one of my favorite places on earth, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. I also needed to be with someone who loved me and I knew this was the perfect time to show my grandmother the mountains. I called her up – and I didn’t have to persuade her. “When are you picking me up?” she asked.’
They had a great time. They slept in a tent and climbed a mountain and Grandma Joy ‘impressed everyone we met along the way’.
Brad said that the trip ‘instantly transformed my life’ and that he now had the hope ‘to show her as much of the great outdoors as I possibly could’.
Grandson and Grandma in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. The trip, says, Brad, has changed his perspective on life
Brad said that embarking on the odyssey instantly transformed his life. Here’s Grandma Joy at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Arches National Park in Utah (pictured left). The image on the right shows Grandma Joy on a speedboat to Boca Chita Key in Biscayne National Park
Brad told MailOnline Travel that the trip has ‘healed deep wounds’ in his relationship with his grandma. Here she is in Grand Canyon National Park
‘Grandma Joy’s Road Trip’ was born and Brad said it ‘gave me a purpose in life that my academic and professional accomplishments never could’.
So far Brad and Grandma Joy have driven 25,000 miles and been to national parks including Crater Lake, Badlands, Yosemite and Joshua Tree – to name but a few.
They have 32 left before their goal is complete.
The benefits of the adventure, for both of them, have been enormous.
Brad, who is currently a Program Manager for the Smithsonian Global Health Program at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, said: ‘The open road provided opportunities for us to exchange stories about our lives. Learning about Grandma Joy’s life traveling the country has allowed me to appreciate and preserve my family’s legacy.
‘Nature allowed us to heal some deep wounds in our relationship and we have been able to forge an unbreakable bond. We taught each other how to forgive.
‘She taught me to slow down and appreciate nature’s intricate details when I was used to rushing past the “little stuff” in my quest to conquer another mountain summit. Grandma Joy taught me to be present and grateful for every epic view, because there is no guarantee we will ever step into the same space twice. We should never assume there will be a second chance.’
‘The open road provided opportunities for us to exchange stories about our lives,’ says Brad. Here’s Grandma Joy marvelling at a rainbow while aboard the Yankee Freedom ferry en-route to the Dry Tortugas National Park
Thirty-eight-year-old Brad says that he and his grandma have packed a lifetime’s worth of adventures into a relatively short space of time. They’re pictured here in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia
Going underground on a Mammoth Cave tour in Kentucky. Grandma Joy was the youngest in the tour group by 30 years
Petrified Forest National Park (left) is apparently one of Grandma Joy’s favourite places so far. On the right, the pair pose for the camera in Acadia National Park in Maine
The trip has had a positive impact on others too – it’s captured the imagination of people all over the world.
The trip’s Instagram page has 21,000 followers and they regularly update their popular Facebook page with inspiring and heart-warming videos documenting their progress.
One particularly lovely clip shows Grandma Joy gleefully rolling down a dune at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve at age 87.
Brad said: ‘I remain grateful for the opportunity to show the world that regardless of age, it is possible to make up for lost time and pack in a lifetime of adventure into a relatively short period if you have a positive attitude and the willpower to make it happen.’
He added that Grandma Joy, who has spent most of their nights away in a tent, was ‘inspiring people her age to get out of their rocking chairs and explore’ and had ‘redefined what it means to be an octogenarian’.
One of his favourite memories, Brad recalled, was seeing that Grandma Joy was the oldest person by at least 30 years on the Mammoth Cave tour in Kentucky.
He said: ‘We were briefed by a ranger before the start of the cave tour, and they cited a long list of reasons why someone like Grandma Joy should not enter this subterranean universe.
Classic pose: Grandma Joy stands next to a Joshua tree in Joshua Tree National Park
Proud moment: Grandma Joy getting her first Junior Ranger badge at Everglades National Park in Florida
The cliff dweller ruins in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado were a hit, says Brad
Brad says that their adventures have been pretty trouble-free. The worst experience he can recall is camping in a ‘dodgy’ campsite in Badlands National Park during a storm. He’s pictured with Grandma Joy here in Grand Canyon National Park
Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is the jaw-dropping backdrop to this heart-warming snap
‘Grandma Joy doesn’t allow her arthritic knees to put her on the bench,’ says Brad
‘What they didn’t know was Grandma Joy had already walked across the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado.
‘She had already visited 20 other US National Parks in less than a month before we arrived in Kentucky.
‘What these rangers didn’t know is that Grandma Joy doesn’t allow her arthritic knees to put her on the bench. If she has an opportunity to try something new, then she’s willing to risk failure.’
One slightly hair-raising moment occurred though when the pair were caught in a massive storm in 2017 while camping near Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
Brad said the ‘dodgy’ campsite gave them both creepy ‘Hitchcock/Norman Bates vibes’ as well.
He continued: ‘It was late when we arrived and we were exhausted, so all we needed was a flat space to pitch our tent.
‘The neon welcome sign was flickering and the thunder started to roll. I cleared scores of rocks before setting up the tent.
‘The deafening thunder and lightning continued all through the night as the torrential rain poured down on us.
‘Needless to say, we were both eager to flee at the first sign of dawn.’
Brad said that now Joy ‘is pushing 90’ they are ‘finally headed for hotel life’.
He added: ‘I took so many things for granted before Grandma Joy’s Road Trip, and my perspective on life has changed forever.’
‘Grandma Joy taught me to be present and grateful for every epic view,’ says Brad. She’s pictured here in Glacier National Park in Montana