Stories

Meet the Grandson Taking His 89-Year-Old Grandmother to All 61 National Parks

Since 2015, Brad Ryan and his 89- year old grandma Joy have been taking the nation by storm and capturing the imagination of strangers across the world. Over the past few years, Brad and his grandma have been on a life-changing adventure. When Joy revealed she had one regret in life, that she had never seen “the ocean or mountains,” Brad took her on her first hike. This then spiraled into an epic road trip across the country.

Image: facebook.com/GrandmaJoysRoadTrip

While the adorable duo have been touring the U.S., life wasn’t always so sweet for the pair. They lost touch for a decade and definitely have had a bumpy ride. Still, they have now experienced more in a short time than most do in a lifetime, and the open road has helped them re-connect again. It also opened up some unanswered questions, and sent them both on a life-changing personal journey like no other.

An Early Bond

Brad grew up in a small town in Ohio. He was close to his family but had a special connection with his grandma Joy. He still has fond memories of visiting her every week, and her house always had the smell of freshly baked bread. No matter what she had experienced that day, she was always happy to greet him with her infectious smile, endearing personality, and open arms.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

When he was younger, Brad lived in a loving home with his sister and parents. He had a pretty regular childhood and liked school, animals, and the great outdoors. However, one day everything changed. Something happened to his family, which turned his whole world upside down.

Ripped at the Seams

In 2001, Brad’s parents suddenly dropped the bombshell that they were getting a divorce. At the time, Brad was confused and tried his best to wrap his head around it. At that point, however, he didn’t know how much that piece of news would have an impact on him, or his relationship with his family.

Image: facebook.com/drhellbender

Brad later said that his family was “ripped in two.” After his parents divorced, Brad lived with his mother and didn’t have much contact with his father’s family. Since his grandma Joy was on his father’s side, this put a strain on their relationship. The pair didn’t speak for many years.

Following His Dreams

While Brad grew up living with his mother, his family always encouraged him to follow his dreams. He liked school, but he always had a special connection with animals and was happiest in nature. So after he graduated, Brad made the decision to follow his passion and become a vet. He then embarked on a four-year course at vet school.

Image: facebook.com/drhellbender

Throughout his studies, Brad had some personal challenges along the way and found studying “grueling.” One of his outlets for escape was hiking, so he would often spend his spare time on adventures. Some of his hikes were actually soul-searching and helped him reconcile his issues. He always had a thirst for adventure since he was a kid. At that point, he just didn’t realize how much it would influence his life later on.

Small-Town Life

While Brad was focusing on vet school, his grandma Joy continued to live in her home in Ohio. It’s fair to say that her journey wasn’t always so easy for her. She worked right up until her eighties, and only earned a minimum wage. Still, Joy seemed to be content living the small-town life, and never really left her area to travel.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

Joy also suffered from health issues, and she had her fair share of challenges. However, she still managed to be grateful for everything and didn’t seem to let things get to her. Joy always maintained her zest for life, which was always admirable. She always seemed content and was ready to greet everyone with a warm smile and her infectious personality.

Missing Milestones

Ever since his family had separated, both Brad and his grandma Joy had been on a different path. In fact, they were apart for a total of ten years. During that time, they had missed every milestone of each other’s lives. From birthdays and holidays to Brad’s traveling adventures and high school graduation, Brad and his grandma never got to share these experiences.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

In the same way, Brad had missed out on the chance to get to know his grandma. He had missed out on spending quality time with her, hearing her life story, being there for her when she had health issues and listening to her advice. Even though they always felt something was missing, they didn’t get the chance to change things. However, that all changed when there was a family event that neither of them could refuse.

A Family Affair

Almost ten years after Brad’s parent’s divorced, his sister announced her engagement. Everyone was thrilled for her, and she started to plan her wedding. She soon realized something was missing, and she realized that this would be the perfect opportunity to change things. She decided to reunite the family. No matter what had happened in the past, she knew it was the right thing to do.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

When Brad’s sister’s wedding day came along, he was full of emotions. While he was happy for his sister and her new husband, he was also a bag of nerves. He knew that he would meet the other side of his family again, including his grandma Joy. He just didn’t know how things would pan out.

An Anxious Reunion

When Brad saw his grandma Joy for the first time, he was pretty overwhelmed. He felt guilty for letting his family come between them and not seeing or speaking to her for so long. Brad later explained, that to have that relationship hijacked by my parents’ divorce, it was something that I suppressed how deeply that affected me emotionally.”

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

While Brad felt guilty, he was also happy, anxious, and overcome with emotions. He couldn’t wait to speak to her and get to know her once again, especially as he had loved her so much as a child.When he started talking to her that day, he realized he didn’t want to waste any more time. He wanted to find a way to get closer to her again. At that point, he just didn’t know how to do it.

Starting Over

Brad knew he had to start somewhere, so he thought of the perfect way to meet with his grandma again. He simply asked, “Can you come over and teach me how to make that banana bread I love so much?” When Joy heard those words, her face lit up. It was an offer she couldn’t refuse, so she happily obliged.

Image: facebook.com/GrandmaJoysRoadTrip/

When Brad invited his grandma to his house, he later admitted that “it was awkward” at the start, especially after missing out on a decade of each other’s lives. While it was an awkward reunion, he also said that they really had to start over. After all those years apart, they had to get to know each other all over again. So they continued to meet up more regularly.

Her Biggest Regret

While Brad and his grandma tried to reconnect, it was actually a long process. It wasn’t so instant, but they gradually built trust again. Then one day Brad told her about how in 2009, he went on an unforgettable hike along the Appalachian trail. The trail runs from Georgia to Maine and was one of the best experiences he had ever had.

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Joy had also shared stories that Brad had never heard before. It was when she heard about Brad’s hike that she opened up more. Joy revealed that she only had one regret in life. She said she used to go on some fishing trips with his grandad, but she never traveled. In fact, she revealed she had “never seen the oceans or a mountain.” She added, “‘it’s a shame I didn’t get to see more of that in my life. I never had the chance to.'”

No Hesitation

When Brad heard that his grandma had never had the chance to see the ocean, it struck a big chord with him. To Brad, traveling, seeing new places, and outdoor adventures had always come naturally to him. If he wanted to go on a hike, he would just jump in his car and drive, without hesitation.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

So Brad didn’t hesitate that day. He would never forgive himself if she passed on without seeing all the “iconic landscapes of America.” He had the power to help make his grandma’s dreams come true. After all, she was in her eighties, and they both couldn’t afford to waste any more time. So Brad asked his grandma to go with him on her first hiking trip.

Their First Trip

In September 2015, Brad and his grandma set off on their first hike. Brad took her to theGreat Smoky Mountains National Park. They both didn’t know what to expect, as Joy had never gone on a long trip, hiked or camped before. She also wasn’t so young. However, she took to hiking and camping like a duck to water.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

Although she was 85, Joy actually “climbed a mountain,” and as she hiked everyone she came across gave her a high-five. She also camped in the great outdoors with her grandson. Brad was amazed by his grandma. She took it all in her stride, broke out of her comfort zone and was just so grateful for the chance to see nature. Brad later said, “That’s when I realized she was capable of more than I thought.”

The Wonder of Nature

After their first trip was such a huge success, the duo decided to embark on their next adventure. So they planned a longer trip that would last 28 days. During that time, they visited a total of 21 national parks. Both Brad and his grandma were in awe, but for different reasons.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

As they visited each place, Joy was in awe of the breathtaking landscapes. She was amazed at seeing the majesty of nature for the first time and was struck with a childlike fascination. Her affection for nature was contagious. As they went to each place. According to Brad, his grandma was amazed by everything; “From mountains and prairie dogs, cactuses, the ocean, plants, and soil she never knew existed.”

In Awe of Joy

From Yosemite and Yellowstone to Joshua Tree and The Grand Canyon, the pair traveled from park to park, and from state to state across the U.S. While Brad loved seeing new destinations, he was a little more in awe of his grandma. She really did stop to smell the roses, which changed his entire outlook on life. He said his trip was “everything you see on the surface: a lot of laughter, a lot of smiles, a lot of breathtaking landscapes.”

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

Brad appreciated the chance to spend so much time with Joy. It was amazing to see “her eyes come alive in a way that she would never be able to articulate with words.” For Brad, it was like watching a child see the wonder of nature for the first time.

A Zest for Life

As they set off on each leg of their adventure, Joy continued to have a childlike curiosity and fascination with everything she saw. On one trip she giggled how “What we gonna see? I hope it’s a moose. What did we find this time? Another alligator, but thank god he was sleeping.”

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

Brad was blown away by how she simply appreciated everything. Joy constantly surprised him with her zest for life and enthusiasm. He was touched how she just went with the flow in every situation and “lives her life to the fullest until the last minute.” In fact, he said the trip “instantly changed his life.”

Unanswered Questions

While they were on the open road and in nature, it was amazing to rekindle their relationship. However, while it was full of highs, Brad later said that the first trip was pretty emotional too. They began to share more and more with each other. They soon discovered that there were some other emotions lingering under the surface that the pair had never had the chance to discuss before.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

Brad later said that on his first trip, there were many unanswered questions. So while they drove across the country for 28 days, they also had some pretty “difficult conversations” and had to learn how “forgive each other.” That trip was more about healing wounds and gave them a chance to share stories about their lives that they had never shared. It also allowed them to “gain more understanding about what went down.”

Valuable Life Lessons

Up until that point, Brad had been quietly taking everything in. He was still amazed at how excited Joy was to see new places, learn about nature and how she appreciated majestic sights. He also said that  ‘Seeing it through my grandmother’s eyes, who every morning wakes up and is thankful to be alive, has taught me how to live.”

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

He also said that the experience had made him”slow down” and see life in a different way, which made it a richer experience. He couldn’t get out of his head how “the idea of being forgotten left alone in your life without any adventure, it felt unethical.” That first trip was as much about seeing new places and experiences, as about learning life-lessons from his grandma.

Just The Start

After Brad and Joy returned from their first trip, it only fueled their thirst for adventure. Nature allowed them to forgive each other, learn about life, and established an unbreakable bond. It also taught Brad to “be present and take in every view.” What’s more, they had really caught the travel bug and couldn’t wait to plan their next adventure.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

Brad realized he had the power to help her fulfill her dreams and wishes later in life, there are no second chances, and nothing could get in the way of that now. He was also inspired by her attitude. She had been through a lot of challenges along the way but never seemed to let things get her down.

An Ambitious Dream

While some people would have been satisfied with what they had already achieved, Brad was thinking bigger. Since they had already seen 21 National Parks together, he figured, why not keep going. So Brad started a quest to visit all 61 National Parks across America.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

That was a pretty ambitious plan, and at the time he didn’t know how he was going to fund the trip or make it happen. However, after everything, Brad thought that “she deserved to have an experience like this.” He just had to figure out how to make it happen.

A GoFundMe Account

Once Brad started to plan their next adventure, he realized that it would be pretty expensive. He was still a student in vet school at the time. However, Brad didn’t want to wait until he graduated. He also couldn’t wait to start his career before their next trip. He realized how precious time was and didn’t want to wait.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

So Brad set up and a GoFundMe page to help fund their ambitious plan. To his surprise, he received attention far and wide from friends, family, and strangers alike. His page was flooded with comments, revealing just how much people were touched by their story. It was then he began to realize how much their journey had affected other people too.

An Inspiration to Strangers

The more Brad thought about it, the more he realized how much his grandma had generated such a positive reaction with people on the hikes. He realized that “what we were doing had an effect on people,” because it’s not so common “for grandchildren and grandparents to do this.” The rangers were also impressed by Joy’s fearless achievements. She was even rewarded with a Junior Ranger badge in the Everglades.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

Seeing how much his trip impacted others, really hit it all home to him. On most of the trips, grandma Joy was the oldest person, but she camped in a tent and inspired campers half her age to get up and go explore nature. Everywhere she went, people were always amazed by her willingness to take every opportunity, and how she was fearless at taking risks, especially in her eighties.

Sharing Their Experiences

After Brad set up the Go-Fund-Me page, it was flooded with donations and heartfelt comments from people around the world. Everyone was touched by their journey. One user commented how, “That’s the sweetest thing I’ve seen in a long time…you’re making priceless memories with your grandma”. They soon raised enough money, and Brad and Joy got ready for their next road trip.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

Around the same time, Brad also set up a social media page “Grandma Joy’s Road Trip” and began to share their experiences. Their page is full of heartwarming photos and videos, which has captured the imagination of people far and wide. While people love seeing Joy visit new places, she also continues to amaze everyone with her zest for life.

Going Viral

Soon enough, their great adventure attracted more and more attention and began to go viral. The duo continued to share photos from each new place and Joy has entertained us all with her childlike fascination with nature in each new breathtaking place. Everyone was amazed when she rolled down the dunes at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Even when she was chased by a moose at Glacier National Park, Joy still takes it all in her stride.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

So many people love seeing their photos and experiences, and they now have a huge following. People are continuously surprised and one user encouraged how “he is giving her an amazing experience, but he is also being given an amazing experience. Both are so lucky to have each other and the love that exists between them.”

A Graduation To Remember

When Brad and Joy first set off on their first trip in 2016, it was emotional to reunite with his grandma and rebuild their relationship. It was also a testing time for another reason. He was still in his fourth year of vet school at the time and was finding his course challenging.

Image: facebook.com/drhellbender

While he continued to climb mountains with his grandma, it also helped inspired him to continue with his course. She helped change his perspective on life and he was even more determined to succeed. When he finally finished his fourth year of school and graduated, there was no one more special that he wanted to share the day with than his beloved grandma.

Anything Is Possible

While Brad and grandma Joy had gone on their own life-changing adventure, Brad hopes that their story would provide inspiration to others. He’s learned the hard way that life is short, but that you’re never too old to fulfill your dreams, or “pack in a lifetime of adventure” into such a short time. Really, anything is possible.

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

Brad also hopes their story will also influence young people to reach out to their grandparents more. There’s so much wisdom you can learn from the older generation. He also encourages people to ask them the same question he asked, “What is it that you wish you had done in your life that you hadn’t?” If they have the power to change that, he hopes people will follow his lead.

Setting Their Sights Higher

Since 2015, Brad has driven his grandma to over 29 National Parks and counting. Over five separate trips, they have traveled over 25,000 miles across 38 states. So the burning question on everyone’s lips is what’s next for the pair?

Image: Instagram.com/grandmajoysroadtrip

Well, Brad and Joy are still on his quest to visit the remaining National Parks and hit every state across the U.S. Joy also has one more dream on her bucket list that she has to cross off, which is flying for the first time. She hopes to visit Hawaii and Alaska. So, while we wait with bated breath, only time will tell if their epic road trip turns into a flying adventure soon!