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.
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.
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.