Man and Grandma Who've Seen All But 1 US National Park About to Hit Huge Milestone: ‘Good Gravy, What a Trip!’
Brad Ryan and his Grandma Joy became travel companions in 2015 after Brad discovered she’d never seen the ocean or even a mountain. The duo discusses their adventures with Inside Edition Digital as they prepare to hit an incredible milestone together.
A 92-year-old Ohio woman who hadn’t seen the ocean or a mountain until her mid-80s is now just one trip away from visiting all 63 national parks in the United States.
Joy Ryan began the epic journey seven years ago along with her grandson Brad Ryan, who has since become her steadfast travel companion every step of the way.
“We were talking on her front porch, and she said that she'd never seen a mountain. And I just thought what it would be like to be sitting on that front porch for decades, at the time, seeing the same view. And yet having this hunger to see the great outdoors and not being able to fulfill that in any way,” Brad, a veterinarian, tells Inside Edition Digital.
In his final year of vet school in 2015, Brad asked his Grandma Joy to come along for the ride on a three-day camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
At 85, Joy slept in a tent for the very first time. "She climbed mountains with me with a smile on her face," Brad says.
“It did something good for her soul and for my soul to do that. I thought, ‘If I'm going to go out, and see America, I want her with me. I want to be able to do that as a duo,’” Brad says.
Joy agreed without hesitation. “I was thinking anything was better than being stuck sitting on that front porch. The first camping trip, though, it was fun," she tells Inside Edition Digital. "So I figured, ‘Why not go ahead, and if he wants to go, we'll keep on going.’ So, that's what we did.”
With their atlas in tow, the duo took off on a 28-day camping trip in the summer of 2017, visiting 21 national parks spanning 10 states.
Their travels took them to some of the most iconic natural wonders in the country — the Badlands of South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park, the Redwoods in California and the Grand Canyon in Arizona, along with Utah's Zion National Park and the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado.
In 2018, they visited Florida Everglades and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Their story went viral online in 2019 and was covered by dozens of news outlets, including Inside Edition.
Newfound public support and an ever-growing social media following have allowed them to keep going since.
A 45-day trip in the fall of 2019 took them to 14 different states and 20 more parks, including the Rocky Mountains and California's Death Valley. Further trips have taken them to remaining national parks outside of the mainland U.S. in Hawaii and the Virgin Islands.
After a break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they visited all eight national parks in Alaska in the summer of 2021. The 2.5-week trip was sponsored by the “Rachael Ray Show.”
Joy traipsed across the tundra of the Arctic Circle and walked on a glacier near Denali, the tallest peak in North America. The weather was unseasonably cooperative.
“Most people said that we pulled off the impossible because there's so much rain in Alaska, in August. And we barely had a drop of rain,” Brad says. He calls his grandma a "good luck charm."
In Alaska, they were also told they were too late to catch the iconic scene at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park and Preserve, where brown bears congregate in early summer during the salmon run. However, last year, the salmon run was late. When Joy and Brad approached the falls, they saw 35 brown bears at one time.
It was Joy’s lifelong dream, and she made it come true.
In New River Gorge National Park, their most recent trip, Joy went ziplining at the TreeTops Canopy Tour, a series of 10 ziplines, featuring six suspension bridges, foot bridges and a 35-foot rappel.
“The previous record holder was 83, and she did it at 91,” Brad says.
As the duo’s sense of adventure grew, so too did the bond between them.
“It’s amazing how patient he is. He has to be patient with me sometimes, and he does it willingly. He has this glow about him, everybody is drawn to him, and he has the ability to talk to anybody about anything, and make them feel important,” Joy says.
When you’re on the open road for 50,000 miles together, there are opportunities to laugh and cry and even shout, Brad says, noting, “There were all kinds of conversations that we had about our lives, good and bad. And for me, it was the opportunity to create something new, and beautiful with my grandma, and to really learn who she is, and where she came from.”
Joy Ryan lost two of her three sons in middle age. Her husband Bob died when she was in her mid-sixties, and she could barely afford the funeral. One week later, she applied to work at a grocery store deli, where she worked until her early eighties.
“She's been through a lot. And then on top of all of that, she's in the sunset of her life, working in a deli instead of going out and seeing the most beautiful sunsets in the world. For me, [it’s been] beneficial because I was able to open up a new world of possibility for her. But she was also able to give me a very clear example of what optimism looks like, what resilience looks like. And I was able to go back to my life with a renewed sense of hope for my future,” Brad says.
Joy’s story has also inspired thousands around the world about living life with no regrets and showing other senior citizens about what could be possible for them as they age.
“That's why we really started out, because there's so many people when they get to be 60 or 70, ‘Well, I can't do anything. I couldn't try that’ Whatever. Even my friend said, ‘Oh, I couldn't do that.’ And I said, ‘Well, have you ever tried it?’ — ‘No.’ — ‘Well, then don't say no, and then you'll have regrets,’” Joy says.
Brad and Joy are now planning a trip to National Park of American Samoa, which will be the last one of their original goal. But they may not be finished just yet, with possible future trips to Canada and Ireland, among others.
Brad says there was a time when that would’ve seemed like an “impossible dream.” After 50,000 miles logged together, it doesn’t seem so impossible anymore.
“I wouldn't be surprised if I saw her walking on the moon, to be honest.”
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