Most people only hit a handful of national parks in their lifetime, but one young man set out to complete one important mission: ensuring his grandmother sees them all. And this week, after a seven-year journey, Brad Ryan can proudly say they both did it.
Ryan and his 93-year-old grandmother landed in their final destination on Monday, May 15: the National Park of American Samoa in the South Pacific.
Their quest to see all 63 U.S. national parks began years back when Ryan's grandmother, Joy, said she had never been to a mountain. The two set out in 2015 and started checking parks and experiences off the list.
They began by taking Joy to her first mountain range in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They attempted to sleep on air mattresses there, but it didn't quite go according to plan: Joy Ryan told CBS News, "Well, I didn't sleep on it. I fell off. So I think, 'The heck with it.' I go to sleep on the ground."
Initially, Ryan was worried about his grandmother and her age, but it turned out to be a non-issue. He said, "That was my misperception of what age means and, more importantly, what her spirit would allow her to do."
They kept trucking, at one point hitting 21 parks in 28 days during one particularly busy streak.
The only thing that slowed them down was COVID. When the pandemic hit, they had seen 29 parks. Ryan told CBS, "It seemed like an impossible dream once. But after everything that I've done with her — whitewater rafting. She was 91 when we did Class-3 rapids in Alaska."
Joy has been receptive to every single experience, and her favorite was whitewater rafting. "Oh, it was fun. I had the best time. And just like being on a roller coaster. I love roller coasters," she said.
They have shared their journey on their Instagram account, @grandmajoysroadtrip, with 68,000 followers over the years, some of whom have been there since the beginning. Their final park will be the National Park of American Samoa in the South Pacific. The two will forever have memories of their trip. Joy said the trip gave her a chance to "go out and broaden my horizons and see all the beautiful things I only dreamed about."
At 93, Joy Ryan is the oldest living person to visit all 63 parks. The pair have already visited many of the island's attractions and plan to see more during their 10-day stay. While they are thrilled to hit their goal, it's a little "bittersweet." Joy's oldest son and Brad's father died at the beginning of May.
But the pair doesn't plan on stopping here. Brad wrote that they have big plans for future travel. "We are headed to Kenya for a National Geographic expedition in July. I wouldn't be surprised to see Grandma Joy flying through space or walking on the moon. This is what 93 should look like if we're lucky enough to live as long as she has."
Editors note: Article was originally published in October 2022 but has been updated to reflect the Ryan's completed journey.
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