When Brad Ryan found out his 89-year-old grandmother had never seen a mountain range, he decided to make her dream come true.
Since 2015, the grandmother-grandson duo have made it their mission to road trip across the entire country and visit 29 national parks to give her the “life of adventure she had never been able to fulfill,” he told Fox KTVU 2.
The Ohio native and his grandmother — who he lovingly refers to as “Grandma Joy” — went on their first joint road trip four years ago to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, found on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee.
Most recently, they checked their 29th park, Acadia National Park, off their bucket list.
But to Ryan and Grandma Joy, this trip means a lot more than just climbing mountains and watching sunsets. It’s about taking advantage of every moment while they’re here.
“I felt a calling to ensure she was not forgotten and that she was given the opportunity to live the life of adventure she had never been able to fulfill,” he told the publication.
To document the life-changing trip, Ryan created a Facebook page called “Grandma Joy’s Road Trip.” It’s full of photos of him and his grandmother enjoying the great outdoors — a passion they both have in common.
Two years after their inaugural journey, they set out on a 16,000-kilometre road trip, visiting 21 U.S. national parks in a mere 28 days.
With 50 days on the road, 40,200 kilometres and 38 states under their belts, their heartwarming story has reached the hearts of many following their journey.
“Everywhere we go, people are inspired by Grandma Joy’s spirit and attitude,” he said. “She believes you’re never too old to try something once whether it’s rolling down a sand dune in Great Sand Dunes National Park or hiking 5 miles round-trip to see the Alum Cave Bluffs in the Smokies.”
Knowing that life is finite, Grandma Joy has inspired in her grandson a desire to live in the moment and stay present.
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“When she says, ‘I probably won’t be back here again,’ it always affirms that tomorrow is never guaranteed,” he said. “We have an obligation to lean into joy with every spectacular sunrise and chorus of birds that greet the morning.”
Ryan, who now lives in Washington and works as a wildlife veterinarian at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, knows that “time is the most precious, fleeting commodity we have.”