In the realm of one’s twenties, an insistent pressure looms to absorb all that the world offers within a decade, a period before life allegedly undergoes radical transformations. The ominous arrival of the thirties, a phase where life’s expectations execute somersaults, can entangle the mind in perpetual confusion.
Querying the purpose of life has been a recurrent theme, varying from the pursuit of happiness to dedicating oneself to communal service. Despite these diverse paths, the ultimate aim remains satisfaction within the limited time allotted on this terrestrial sphere, or perhaps the lunar realm for the daring.
Contrary to the conventional belief that the zest for exploration diminishes with age, a testament emerges in the form of a remarkable pair: a 92-year-old grandmother and her 42-year-old grandson. Their mission? To traverse all 63 national parks in the United States, defying the linear constraints of joyous exploration.
Joy Ryan, the 92-year-old matriarch, and her grandson, Brad Ryan, initiated this unparalleled adventure in October 2015. Since then, their journey has drawn the attention of a dedicated following of 60,000 enthusiasts eager to witness the unfolding escapades.
Joy’s life, until recently, had been rooted in a small Ohio town, witnessing the growth of her children and grandchildren. She derived joy from observing their lives, overlooking her own unexplored experiences. Brad’s realization during a three-day weekend in veterinary school was the catalyst for this transformative journey. He invited Joy to embark on an odyssey, marking the inception of their grand expedition.
Their inaugural escapade to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park defied expectations, challenging the preconceived notions of age limitations. This began a series of adventures, including a remarkable journey to 21 national parks in 28 days. The initial misgivings about Joy’s capability were dispelled as they continued their odyssey, momentarily disrupted by the unforeseen constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an unexpected turn, Brad documented their vacation on social media, fostering a community that admired their exploits and offered accommodations during their park visits. The duo’s travels evolved into a source of inspiration, earning acclaim from the National Park Service and exemplifying the profound connection shared between Joy and Brad.
A pinnacle of their escapades unfolded in July 2021, with a voyage to the eight national parks of Alaska. Engaging in white-water rafting, traversing glaciers, and witnessing wildlife fulfilled Joy’s long-held desires, notably observing bears catching fish. Their encounters and documented experiences resonated with a growing online community, steadily swelling to 60,000 followers on Instagram.
Approaching the culmination of their ambitious venture, the National Park of American Samoa remains the sole frontier yet to be conquered, situated more than 6,700 miles from their hometown. Despite the anticipation of completing this monumental journey, Brad expresses a bittersweet sentiment, acknowledging the profound beauty of the adventure.
Grandma Joy attributes her enduring optimism to a philosophy of always embracing positivity and eagerly anticipating the future. With one final park on the horizon, she radiates enthusiasm, emphasizing the importance of seizing every opportunity without succumbing to regrets.
The duo remains fervent advocates for exploration, encouraging others to seek adventure in every corner of the country. For those aspiring to explore the national parks, an itinerary meticulously crafted by Randy Olson offers a comprehensive roadmap covering the 48 contiguous states.
As Brad and Joy conclude their extraordinary odyssey, their indelible mark on the hearts of admirers resonates. Their inspirational journey prompts contemplation about the desired narrative of life in the later years, echoing Brad’s poignant question: “If we’re lucky enough to live to be 85 or 92, how do we want that to look?” Share your thoughts below, and may your day be filled with adventurous pursuits!