In 2015 at the age of 85, Joy Ryan had never traveled far from her quiet hometown of Duncan Falls, Ohio. She had never seen an ocean, desert, mountain, or major river. She had been widowed for 20 years and had never found any good way to see the world. However, this all changed drastically when she found an unusual adventure partner. Her grandson, Brad. The pair embarked on a impromptu three day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And it was such a success that they set a new goal of hitting all 61 U.S. National Parks together.
Joy’s grandson, Brad Ryan knew of his grandmother’s regrets of not traveling more. This article from Backpacker explains this heartwarming story of hitting the road at 89. When he hiked the Appalachian Trail in college, his grandmother expressed her amazement. However, it wasn’t until his last year of veterinary school when he lost his friend to suicide. Brad came to the realization that he and his grandmother had waited long enough. He needed something to fill his time. And he wanted his grandmother to have the experiences. So together, they hit the road, heading on their first adventure to a national park.
Their first trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was such a success that they immediately resolved to hit all 61 U.S. national parks. As a result of the money raised from their GoFundMe website, they hit the road together in 2017. In this first trip, they set foot in 21 national parks in just 28 days. Today, Grandma Joy is 89 years old and has seen 49 national parks. She and Brad have seen so many animals, including Joy’s personal favorite, the prairie dog. But they’re not done yet. This December of 2019, the duo plans to take on Hawaii and Alaska’s national parks.
Above all, Joy cherishes the time spent with her grandson. She views him as her “best friend and buddy”. Furthermore, she hopes her journeys will inspire other older adults to explore and travel. She advises to never wait to tomorrow what you can do today. On Brad’s Instagram account chronicling their adventures, he recalls how at 85 years young she climbed a mountain on their first trip. “Will power defies that silly little number we call age”, he writes.