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The Unforgettable Journey of a Grandmother and Grandson: Exploring All National Parks in the U.S.

Life in your twenties often feels like a race against time to experience everything the world offers before hitting the milestone age of thirty. Society tells us that this next decade brings drastic changes and responsibilities that may limit our freedom to explore. But what if the adventure doesn’t have to end with youth? This story of a 92-year-old grandmother and her 42-year-old grandson proves that the spirit of discovery transcends age.

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Joy Ryan, at the age of 92, and her grandson Brad Ryan, 42, embarked on an extraordinary mission: to visit all 63 national parks in the United States. Their journey, which started in October 2015, has captured the hearts of many, turning their personal adventure into an inspiration for thousands of followers on social media.

A Journey Born from a Shared Need for Healing

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The idea for this epic journey came about during a challenging period in both their lives. Brad was in the midst of his veterinary studies, dealing with the aftermath of his parents’ divorce and the suicide of a fellow student. Joy, who had spent most of her life in a small town in Ohio and had never seen the mountains, the coast, or the desert, was dealing with the loss of her husband and the monotony of daily life.

Image credits: grandmajoysroadtrip

During a break from his studies, Brad decided to reconnect with his grandmother. He invited Joy on a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and to his delight, she enthusiastically accepted. This trip marked the beginning of an incredible adventure that would span years and cover thousands of miles.

Overcoming Challenges and Misconceptions

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Brad initially worried about the logistics and challenges of traveling with his elderly grandmother. However, Joy’s spirit and enthusiasm quickly dispelled any doubts. “I misinterpreted what age means and what her spirit would allow her to do,” Brad admitted. Their first trip was a success, and Joy proved she was more than capable of keeping up with the demands of travel.

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Their adventures didn’t stop with the Smoky Mountains. Over time, they visited 21 national parks in just 28 days. Even the COVID-19 pandemic, which put a temporary halt to their travels, didn’t diminish their resolve. By the time travel restrictions were in place, they had already visited 29 parks.

Building a Community of Supporters

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As they journeyed from park to park, Brad began documenting their travels on social media. What started as a way to keep friends and family updated quickly grew into a supportive community of over sixty thousand followers on Instagram. Joy’s zest for life and Brad’s dedication to his grandmother struck a chord with many, inspiring them to seek their own adventures.

Image credits: grandmajoysroadtrip

Joy and Brad’s story resonated with people worldwide, leading to offers of accommodation and assistance from strangers who were touched by their journey. “He just posted that on social media so that everyone in Duncan Falls could see what we were up to,” Joy said. The overwhelming support and kindness they received along the way turned their travels into a communal experience, shared by many who cheered them on from afar.

Memorable Experiences and Lifelong Dreams Fulfilled

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One of the most memorable parts of their journey was their trip to Alaska in July 2021. Joy had always dreamed of seeing bears catch salmon, and this dream was finally realized. They visited all eight of Alaska’s national parks, where Joy went white-water rafting, hiked among glaciers and fjords, and saw wild animals up close. “I’ve always wanted to watch the bears catch the salmon, and I finally got the chance to do so. And I must say, that was a lot of fun,” she shared.

Their adventures were not just about ticking off destinations on a list but about sharing experiences that brought them closer together. Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles from the National Park Service described them as “an inspiration to us all,” emphasizing that national parks are best experienced with loved ones. The bond between Joy and Brad deepened through their travels, highlighting the special connection that can be formed through shared adventures.

The Final Leg of Their Journey

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As of now, Joy and Brad have visited all but one of the national parks in the U.S. The only park remaining on their list is the National Park of American Samoa, which is over 6,700 miles away from their hometown of Duncan Falls. They eagerly anticipate this final trip, although they know it will be bittersweet to conclude their incredible journey.

Reflecting on their travels, Brad noted on Good Morning America (GMA) that ending their adventure would be “bittersweet.” Joy, too, expressed her gratitude and joy for the experiences they’ve shared. “This has truly been the most wonderful, wonderful moment. And even if I could, I wouldn’t give it up for anything,” she said.

Embracing Life and Inspiring Others

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Joy attributes her positive outlook on life to her philosophy of always trying to be happy and looking forward to new experiences. “I’m looking forward to everything,” she said. Her optimism and enthusiasm have been key to their successful travels, and she remains hopeful about completing their journey to American Samoa.

Brad and Joy’s story encourages others to seek adventure, no matter their circumstances. “We recognize that not everybody is going to be able to travel to every one of the United States National Parks,” Brad said. “However, some element of excitement may be discovered in every region of the country, and it is our sincere wish that more people will go out and look for it.”

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Their journey serves as a reminder that it’s never too late to explore and experience new things. Whether you’re 42 or 92, the world is full of opportunities for adventure. The key is to embrace those opportunities and share them with loved ones.

Planning Your Own National Park Adventure

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For those inspired by Joy and Brad’s travels, Randy Olson has devised a plan to tour all the national parks in the 48 contiguous states in the shortest amount of time possible. This ultimate national park road trip spans 16,847 miles and would take about two months to complete at a brisk pace. While not everyone can take on such an extensive journey, this plan provides a roadmap for those eager to explore multiple parks in one trip.

Final Thoughts and Reflections

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As Joy and Brad near the end of their national park journey, they reflect on the incredible experiences they’ve had and the bond they’ve strengthened along the way. Their story is a testament to the power of adventure and the importance of making the most of the time we have with our loved ones.

“If we’re fortunate enough to live to be 85 or 92, how do we want that to look?” Brad asked, prompting us all to consider how we want to spend our later years. Their journey challenges us to think about our own lives and the adventures we want to pursue, regardless of age.

Share Their Story and Inspire Others

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If Joy and Brad’s story has touched you, consider sharing it with your friends and family on Facebook. Their tale of adventure, resilience, and love is sure to inspire others to seek out new experiences and cherish the time they have with loved ones.

Image credits: grandmajoysroadtrip

The journey of Joy and Brad Ryan reminds us that adventure knows no age limit. Their quest to visit all 63 national parks in the United States is more than just a travel story; it’s a narrative of healing, connection, and the relentless pursuit of joy. As they near the end of their incredible journey, they leave behind a legacy of inspiration, encouraging us all to find our own adventures and share them with the people we love.

For more stories that inspire and captivate, keep scrolling below. And don’t forget to give this post an upvote and follow the author for more content like this. Toodaloo!

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