Brad and Grandma Joy's piece of advice to everyone is to always look for opportunities to explore.
Visiting all 63 U.S. national parks is a lofty endeavor. But Brad Ryan, 42, and his 92-year-old grandma, Joy Ryan, inch closer and closer toward achieving this goal.
In October 2015, the duo from Duncan Falls, Ohio, began their journey when Brad was looking for a way to pass a three-day weekend while he was attending veterinary school, according to Good Morning America. He told his grandma about his past trip to the Appalachian Trail and she expressed regret that she had never done anything like that before. Joy's children are all grown, her husband passed away 20 years ago and she had never seen a mountain, according to CBS News.
Brad asked his grandmother to join him on a weekend trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, expecting it to be their only outing together.
"I felt bad that she was always living vicariously through my stories," Brad said. "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." That has changed now. They once visited 21 national parks in only 28 days. Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to slow down, they had been to 29 parks.
Brad said he was certain that going on a camping trip with his 85-year-old grandmother was not "going to be anything less than challenging." But he was proved wrong. "That was my misperception of what age means and more importantly, what her spirit would allow her to do," he said. Grandma Joy agrees that she has an optimistic outlook on life and she has "always tried to be positive." She is open to trying new things because she "didn't want to have to regret the next day that you didn't do it."
Brad began documenting their adventures on social media as @GrandmaJoysRoadtrip and they quickly grew in popularity. They now have nearly 58,000 Instagram followers. "We didn't expect that," Grandma Joy said. "He just put that on the social media so the people back home in Duncan Falls knew what we were doing."
Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, chief of public affairs and chief spokesperson for the National Park Service, said in a statement that the duo is "an inspiration to us all." Anzelmo-Sarles added, "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."
Grandma Joy and Brad went on one of their wildest adventures yet in July 2021 to the eight National Parks of Alaska. While there, white water rafting down class 3 rapids, hiking near glaciers and fjords, and seeing a wild animal were checked off Grandma Joy's bucket list. "I always wanted to see the bears get the fish and I finally got to see it. And it was fun, it really was," Grandma Joy said.
The National Park of American Samoa, which is more than 6,700 miles from the pair's hometown of Duncan Falls, is the only national park that Grandma Joy and Brad have left to visit after years of planning and travel. Brad said that finishing their incredible feat will be "bittersweet," even though they are looking forward to the day they visit their final park. "It's been a grand adventure, it really has," Grandma Joy said. "It's really been a beautiful, beautiful time. And I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Brad and Grandma Joy's piece of advice to everyone is to always look for opportunities to explore. "We realize that not everybody is going to be able to travel to every U.S. National Park," Brad said. "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."