93-Year-Old Grandma Visits All 63 National Parks With Her Grandson
"It has been the greatest privilege of my life,” says Brad Ryan of completing the quest with grandma Joy.
When Joy Ryan set out to visit all 63 national parks with her grandson Brad, traveling amidst a global pandemic wasn't on the bucket list. But seven years—and countless hours spent in the air and on the road—later, the 93-year-old grandma and her grandson have reached their final and most remote destination: the National Park of American Samoa.
In 2015, their quest began, according to The Washington Post, when Brad discovered that his grandmother had never visited a mountain in person. He invited her on a road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is between North Carolina and Tennessee, and after that, the pair kept planning more trips.
The journey to the South Pacific wasn't an easy one, Brad shared with Good Morning America. The National Park of American Samoa is the only U.S. national park south of the equator, also making it the furthest from Ohio, where Joy resides. The adventurous pair touched down late Monday after nearly three days of travel with breaks in between.
"We departed from our hometown of Duncan Falls, Ohio at 3:00 am on Saturday," Brad, a veterinarian, said. "We took a two day break in Oahu before boarding our final flight to Pago Pago, American Samoa, on Monday. Three flights and nearly seventeen flying hours were required before we touched down in American Samoa on Monday evening."
Over the course of their 10-day expedition, the Ryans plan to take in all the sights, smells, and tastes of the South Pacific. The park spans seven villages. So far, they've been able to explore Pola Island and its "deafening" waves, and have encountered lots of wildlife, including a colony of flying foxes (fruit bats).
The pair, according to The Washington Post, had already slept beneath the night sky at the Joshua Tree National Park in California; walked the bridge at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in Lansing, West Virginia; and looked on as bears fished for salmon at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park in Alaska.
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Visiting national park number 63 is a "bittersweet" milestone, Brad continued. It marks both the end of their mission and a historic feat for Joy, who officially became the oldest person to visit all 63 national parks. Their trip also falls on the heels of the recent death of Brad's father and Joy's eldest son.
"Reaching our 63rd and final U.S. National Park is bittersweet, with an emphasis on the 'sweet.' Standing at the finish line in American Samoa affirms that seemingly impossible goals are in fact possible if you pursue them with passion and pure intention," Brad told GMA. "Grandma Joy has taught the world that you are never too old to show up and live the adventurous life of your dreams. It has been the greatest privilege of my life to be in the driver's seat as Grandma Joy made history to become the oldest person to achieve this historic feat."
So, what's next for the 93-year-old traveler? Brad tells GMA that he and Joy are embarking on a new travel quest: visit all seven continents.
"We are headed to Kenya for a National Geographic expedition in July," he says. "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."
Grandma Joy shares her grandson's affection. "I wouldn't trade him for anybody," she told The Washington Post. "He is my best friend. That's for sure."
Fans can follow Joy and Brad's adventures on Instagram at @grandmajoysroadtrip.