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A Grandmother, a Grandson and a Grand Adventure

It started out simply: one camping trip. But soon Brad and Joy Ryan were on the tour of a lifetime

92-Year-Old Takes On Epic National Park Adventure

Brad Ryan: In 2010, my grandmother and I went for a hike near her home, and she casually mentioned that she regretted not seeing more of the great outdoors in her life. She’d never seen the mountains. She had married my grandfather at age 18 and settled down to raise a family. I realized she’d been looking at the same Ohio view for over six decades.

Joy Ryan: My late husband, Bob, and I never went on any big trips, like to California. We never did anything like that. We worked most of our lives, and after we retired, we’d take winter road trips down to Lake Okeechobee in Florida, because Bob loved to fish for perch. But that’s the farthest we went.

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Brad: My very first memories of Grandma Joy are at a stream in a state park a few miles from our hometown. I had this fascination with the creepy-crawly natural world, and she was the grownup who would take her shoes off and get in the stream and help me catch crawdads and frogs and minnows. So, when she told me that she’d wanted to see more of the outdoors in her life, it really stuck with me. In 2015, I was planning a camping trip, and I asked her if she wanted to join me.

spinner image Joy and Brad Ryan at Gates of the Arctic, 2021
Joy Ryan, 92, with her grandson, Brad Ryan at the Gates of the Arctic in 2021
Courtesy @grandmajoysroadtrip

Joy: He said we were going to stay in a tent, and I had never done that, so I said OK. I packed my suitcase, and away we went.

Brad: We drove seven hours to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and got to the campground around two in the morning in the pouring rain. She held the umbrella as I put the tent together and blew up the air mattress. That first night, she fell off the mattress, but she did so laughing.

Joy: Don’t worry about the small stuff — that’s my philosophy. If you can’t stay on the mattress, stay on the ground. That’s what I did.

Brad: We found out how much we needed each other and this kind of adventure in our lives. And we decided to visit all 63 national parks.

Joy: Traveling to the different parks, we talk about what we’re seeing, but we also talk about personal stuff.

Brad: We’ve been spending so many hours driving together that she’s been able to give me her wisdom and show me what resilience really looks like.

Joy: Everybody has hardships. I lost my husband to cancer in 1994, and one of my three sons to cancer in 2004. In 2005, my youngest son died of a drug overdose. Brad’s father is my only surviving child.

Traveling with Brad has changed my outlook. I’ve realized that there isn’t much difference between the old and the young. We have a lot of the same ideas and the same thoughts.

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Brad: And I’ve learned that I have to do the physically challenging things I love while I still have good knees! But I’ve also learned I don’t need to be depressed about getting older, because I’m one of the very few people in the world who can say that I’ve been white water rafting on Class III rapids with a 91-year-old woman. My grandmother has shown me that getting older can look however you want it to look, if you’re willing to show up and try.

spinner image Joy Ryan en route to Denali in 2021; with grandson Brad in Sequoia in 2016
Joy Ryan en route to Denali in 2021; with grandson Brad in Sequoia in 2016
Courtesy @grandmajoysroadtrip

Joy: You need to be optimistic about everything. Don’t be down in the dumps. If you have the strength to get out of bed, get up and enjoy it.

Brad: You might not be able to climb a mountain, like she did at 85, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a million things you can do.

Joy: We’re planning to visit our final park, in American Samoa, in April. I’m looking forward to going, but it will be kind of sad too. It’s been a wonderful journey.

Brad Ryan, 41, is an Ohio veterinarian who consults with vet hospitals.
Joy Ryan, 92, is a retired grocery clerk who lives in Duncan Falls, Ohio.

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