Four years ago, Brad and Joy Ryan began the journey of a lifetime when they decided they wanted to visit all 61 of the U.S. national parks. An ambitious undertaking for anyone, to be sure, but they’re not exactly your typical travel duo: Joy Ryan is 89 and Brad is her grandson.
“We definitely stood out like sore thumbs,” Brad told CBS News. “That’s when I started to realize how unconventional it is for someone in their 30s, a grandson, to be traveling around with their grandmother.”
The whole thing began in 2015 with an impromptu trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In her entire life, Joy had never seen mountains or oceans. After hearing about a hiking trip Brad had taken on the Appalachian Trail, she confessed some of her regrets to him.
“She told me [. . .] that she really, really regretted that she didn’t get to do more of that type of thing and have more experiences in life.” After a classmate tragically took his own life, Brad used the heartbreaking news as a catalyst. He decided it wasn’t too late for his grandmother to experience all of the things she’d missed out on.
Following the success of that trip, Brad knew he wanted to spend even more time with his grandmother, and thus “Grandma Joy’s Road Trip” officially began. Money was tight, so Brad created a GoFundMe page and managed to raise enough to send them on their next trip, where they hit 21 parks in 28 days.
“That puts us at 29 U.S. national parks out of 61 that we hope to complete. And we’ve done 25,000 miles on the road in the last three and a half years — and we’ve gone through 38 states,” Brad noted. They plan to hit every park before she turns 90.
They’ve seen the Badlands, Yellowstone, Glacier, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, and they just recently made it up to Maine’s Acadia National Park, to name a few.
One of Brad’s favorite memories was watching his grandmother roll down a dune at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, he shared with Good Morning America. They were charged by a moose in Glacier National Park, which was less fun.
Still, Grandma Joy takes the good with the harrowing and manages to keep her positivity. “She wakes up every morning and says ‘Thank you for another day.’”
Traveling with his grandmother has been enriching for Brad, too, as he started seeing the sights through her eyes. Speaking with CBS News, Brad notes that “[s]he’s probably seeing something for the first and last time, and that has dramatically changed the way I live my life as well.”
But no need to feel left out of all the travel fun. The pair have an Instagram account—aptly named “Grandma Joy’s Road Trip”—for you to follow them on their adventures. Next up? Hawaii and Alaska.