Meet the 89-Year-Old Grandma and Grandson Duo Taking the Road Trip of a Lifetime

Grandma Joy Ryan, 89, and her grandson, Brad Ryan, 38, are ramping up their epic journey of visiting all 61 U.S. National Parks.

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Brad Ryan and his grandmother, Joy Ryan

Brad Ryan, 38, has made it his mission to help his 89-year-old grandma, Joy Ryan, fulfill a lifelong wish to see more of the world.

After realizing that⁠—besides a local state park⁠ near her home in Duncan Fall, Ohio⁠—his grandmother had never traveled much or seen a mountain or desert, Ryan decided to take her to all 61 U.S. National Parks.

"So I called her up," Ryan told Guideposts.org, "and said, 'Hey, I really need to get away. I want to go to the Smokies and I think that it's time that you see that mountain, are you game for that?' And she said, 'What time are you picking me up?'"

As for Grandma Joy, she said she was ready for that call. "You can just stay in your little old corner of the world for so long," she explained, adding that she worked in a deli store up until her husband and dog passed away, she had very little—besides her church community—holding her home. "There wasn't anything there. And so, I just thought it would be nice to have an adventure."

Grandma Joy RyanThat fateful three-day road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2015 was, according to Ryan, a healing experience for the two of them. Ryan at the time was completing his fourth year as a veterinary student in The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, battling what he said was "severe depression and imposter syndrome." Grandma Joy was recovering from a recent health scare that forced her to termporarily leave her home. His grandmother's declining health, he said, is what prompted him to reconnect with her. 

"I remember the intense guilt that I felt, like she could go at any time and I've already lost all this time," Ryan said. "I'm never going to know how to make those raisin-dough cookies, or know what I was like as a kid, and I'm never going to know how she met my grandpa, and on and on." 

That first trip, Ryan said, allowed them to do so much of that. He wanted to continue taking Grandma Joy to National Parks, but didn’t have the money, so he created the “Grandma Joy’s Road Trip” GoFundMe page in 2017. The campaign, Ryan said, raised over $3,000 and helped pay for the big, month-long road trip that allowed them to visit 21 U.S. National Parks, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon, Sequioa and Canyonlands. Since then, Ryan said the dynamic duo have completed six road trips, including a six-weeks long journey last fall. 

For Grandma Joy this has all been unexpected, but she's thrilled to be enjoying this experience with her grandson. 

"Well, the way I look at it, I would try anything once," she said. "It's a wonder I ever survived, but we did. I got to climb a mountain, I didn't expect to do that!"

Grandma Joy

The duo is now almost to their goal of 61. They have visited 53 National Parks and driven 28,000 miles through 38 states in the last three and a half years. Their travels are captured on their joint Instagram account, which currently has over 35,000 followers.

"We've met many wonderful people," Grandma Joy said. "We've met people from everywhere, all over the world, Australia, Germany. We did some Facebook Live and people asked us questions, and people called us from Belgium and Ireland, and my goodness, you never even thought that anyone would even know you were there." 

The two said the experience has been "kind of a shock," but it's been nice overall. "It's something I'll always remember," said Grandma Joy. 

"I just hope everyone gets some encouragement and realizes your life's not over," she said. "You can always do one more thing."

The duo, who has partnered with Hyatt for support with their travels, hopes to celebrate Joy’s 90th birthday by visiting the remaining parks throughout 2020, and eventually fulfilling Grandma Joy’s biggest wish, visiting Hawaii and Alaska. 

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