After not speaking to his grandmother for ten years, a D.C. boy decided to explore 63 U.S. national parks with her. He took his 85-year-old grandmother on a fun-filled adventure after she told him she had never seen a mountain.
Often, people cut ties with their family members for various reasons, ranging from minor misunderstandings to huge family conflicts. Once this happens, people rarely reconcile with their loved ones. After years of no contact, apologizing to a family member takes a lot of courage.
The man in today’s story was in a similar boat when his relationship with his grandmother deteriorated after a major life event. However, ten years later, he spoke to her again, and they embarked on an unforgettable adventure that caught the media’s attention.
The Unexpected Separation
Back when Brad Ryan was a little kid, he enjoyed his grandmother Joy Ryan’s undivided attention. There was never a day that went by when Brad didn’t spend time with his paternal granny in their Duncan Falls, Ohio home. He recalled exploring nature and catching frogs with her.
While little Brad always wanted to enjoy his beloved grandmother’s company, fate had other plans. In 2001, his parents divorced, and he had to live with his mother in a different place. He recalled how it affected his relationship with his grandma:
“It kind of ripped our family in two. I didn’t talk to her for ten years.”
The First Glance
Ten years later, Brad was at his sister’s wedding when he felt his love for his grandmother rekindle. The first glance at her made all the childhood memories come back. At that moment, he knew he had to mend his relationship with her.
The past ten years weren’t the best for Joy. She was a former leukemia patient and had experienced recurring pneumonia during that time.
After his sister’s wedding, Brad called Joy and invited her to his home to teach him how to bake banana bread. Brad confessed:
Brad and Joy “started their relationship from scratch,” taking one step at a time to rebuild their trust. While mending their broken relationship, Brad and Joy talked about nature. This was when Brad discovered his grandmother had never seen a mountain. She said:
“It’s a shame I didn’t get to see more of that in my life. I never had the chance to.”
Since Brad knew his grandmother was a big fan of nature, he realized she was missing out on a lot. He knew he had to do something about it before it was too late, so he decided to show her the mountains, oceans, deserts, and every other beautiful landscape she had never seen.
The First Experience
In September 2015, Brad took his beloved grandmother to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He paid for the entire trip while he was in his final year of veterinary school. At that time, the grandson-grandmother duo had no idea this was not a one-time thing. Brad recalled:
“She not only saw mountains, but she climbed mountains with me. Even when the rain was pouring down, she was smiling.”
After visiting a national park with Joy for the first time, Brad realized she was not the “typical” grandmother. He considered her a superhero after witnessing her incredible strength. He knew she was extraordinary because it wasn’t easy for senior citizens to climb mountains.
The Healing Process
Their first adventure was a big success. In the process, Brad realized his grandmother had helped him heal mentally. Before the trip, he wasn’t in his best mental state, but exploring nature with Joy made him feel happy. He said:
“I was trying to do something to help her, and she ended up saving me in the process.”
Brad and Joy knew they wanted to go on such adventures more often, but they didn’t have enough money. Brad set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds and used the money to sponsor their 2017 28-day trip to 21 national parks.
Their 28-day trip was not only about hiking, watching animals, and adoring nature’s wonders. It was also the beginning of difficult conversations and clearing misunderstandings that had kept them apart for ten years.
In 2018, the duo went to Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park and explored a few more parks later that year. By the next year, Brad felt comfortable sharing his journey with the world, so he began documenting their expeditions on Instagram.
With each new road trip, Brad and Joy gained more popularity, and soon, companies started offering sponsored trips to the duo. Some kind souls had also offered Brad and Joy to stay at their homes after watching their story on the local news.
Best Friends for Life
While Joy inspired people by demonstrating nothing was impossible, she became best friends with her grandson. The duo’s goal was to explore all the national parks in the country. In 2021, Brad and Joy covered Alaska’s national parks, where one of Joy’s wishes came true.
The grandmother wanted to witness bears hunt fish, and she finally saw it in one of the national parks. After their last trip, the duo only has one more park to go before claiming they have visited all 63 U.S. national parks.
Brad and Joy admitted exploring their final national park would be an emotional experience. They had put in years of hard work to tick all the national parks off their bucket list. They plan to visit the National Park of American Samoa before 2023 ends.
Joy’s inspirational story teaches us it is never too late to fulfill your dreams and follow your passion. She enjoyed every bit of her journey because of her beloved grandson’s company.
Click here to read another story about a boy who took his 91-year-old grandmother to his prom after learning she had a few months to live.