Brad Ryan and his 89-year-old grandmother Joy Ryan are on a mission to visit all 61 U.S. National Parks.
The idea started after Brad left his small town for college, where he took his first big trip hiking the Appalachian Trail.
When he told Joy — who is from the same small town — about the trip, “She told me at that time that she really, really regretted that she didn’t get to do more of that type of thing and have more experiences in life,” he told CBS News.
“She was 85 years old, sitting in this tiny house, widowed for 20 years,” he said. “Two of her three sons died in their 40s. She worked a minimum wage job until she was in her early 80s to make ends meet. So, there was definitely no surplus of money for her to go and do these things.”
Years later, when Brad was finishing up veterinary school, one of his classmates died by suicide.
“I needed an escape from campus,” he told Good Morning America. He and Joy then took an impromptu trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“During that trip, that’s when I started to realize how unconventional it is for somebody in their 30s, a grandson, to be traveling around with their grandmother,” he told CBS News. “We definitely stood out like sore thumbs everywhere we went.”
Following that 2015 trip, Brad wanted to continue taking Joy on adventures. He started a GoFundMe page, where they raised enough money to visit 21 U.S. National Parks in 28 days.
Since that trip, they’ve visited even more, almost halfway to their goal of all 61.
“That puts us at 29 U.S. National Parks out of 61 that we hope to complete,” Brad explained to CBS News. “And we’ve done 25,000 miles on the road in the last three and a half years, and we’ve gone through 38 states.”
Today, the duo’s travels are captured on their joint Instagram account, called “Grandma Joy’s Road Trip.”
One of his favorite moments of their travels? “Watching my grandmother tap into her inner child as she rolled down a sand dune at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve at age 87,” he told GMA.
“We’ve seen grizzly bears, we’ve been charged by a moose … it was harrowing,” Brad added to CBS News. “We’ve had all these dramatic experiences and seen all this wildlife that she’s never set eyes on in Ohio.”
“At her age, she’s very cognizant that at every moment, she’s probably seeing something for the first and last time, and that has dramatically changed the way I live my life as well,” he continued.