Choosing Joy at Any Age

Our journey began when my Grandma Joy and I were chatting about my 2009 Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I enthralled her with my tales of sketchy hitchhikes and close encounters with bears, and then she expressed her profound regret that she never got to see a mountain in her 80-plus years of life. Her words broke my heart… and changed the course our lives forever. 

During my final year of veterinary school, I invited Grandma Joy to join me on a weekend getaway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She was 85-years-old when we drove through the night and set up our tent in a downpour at 1:00 a.m. at the Elkmont Campground. It was her first time sleeping in a tent, and not only did she see her mountain the next day, she climbed her first mountain too

Up until this moment, my relationship with nature was always defined by how many miles I could crush in a single day; I was never satisfied until I could climb the next highest peak as fast as possible. But hiking with an octogenarian taught me that I was racing through life instead of basking in it. She was more in touch with her mortality and approached every summit view as if it was her first and last. Walking at a slower pace revealed the beautiful intricacies of lichen and insects and countless other wonders of nature that I had been overlooking my whole life. I felt a sense of joy I didn’t know I was missing as nature opened up a whole new world of possibilities for my grandmother. And so we decided to drive a little further and see as many U.S. national parks as possible.

We were over 25,000 miles into our journey with 29 national park visits under our belt when Acadia National Park shared a photograph of Grandma Joy and I standing on the shore of Sand Beach with our arms outstretched on their Instagram page. We were shocked when the image went viral around the world and Grandma Joy’s Road Trip quickly became a national and international news story.

Grandma Joy is now 90-years-old and we have visited all the U.S. national parks in the lower 48 states, Hawai’i, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We also hope to explore the eight national parks of Alaska and National Park of American Samoa to complete our goal of visiting all 62 U.S. parks. We document our journey on Instagram and Facebook to celebrate intergenerational travel and affirm that there is no expiration date on a life of adventure.

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I made a scrapbook of our road trip adventures that I gave to Grandma Joy last Christmas. We had visited 28 US National Parks, and the collection of memories contained in those pages gave me a profound sense of gratitude and pride. I knew we would march forward with our goal in 2019, but never imagined where we would be one year later. We drove to New England in June with my friend, Jessica, who snapped an unassuming photo of me and Grandma Joy with our arms outstretched on Sand Beach in Acadia National Park. By the end of the summer, that photo would be seen by millions of people around the world. Most of you know who we are because you saw us on the news or in your social media feeds. Our hearts are filled by the love you give us every day. Thank you for rooting us on. Thank you for your messages. And thank you for putting our story to work in your own life. We fully expect to see more Grandma Joys in our National Parks next year. We want to thank the entire team at Road Scholar @rsadventures for reaching out to us and sponsoring our first educational travel adventure at Channel Islands National Park. We will carry that experience in our hearts forever. We achieved the once seemingly impossible goal of visiting all the US National Parks in the lower 48 fueled by the generosity of @hyatt who sponsored us. Thank you for giving us a place to rest and recharge on our 45-day fall road trip. We made so many friends along the way and we love you. A huge thanks to Tina Baselice and the entire @golin.global team for all of your passion and support in making our dream come true as well. And finally, we want to thank every single person who invited us into their homes, bed and breakfasts, and businesses to help us along our journey this year. We met people from every walk of life and every political party, and the love we received was universal. We believe in the basic goodness of people and hope that we all learn to see the best in each other. Our hearts are forever changed because of you. We are kicking off 2020 with a big surprise. Please watch our story on the New Year’s Day episode of CBS This Morning at 7:40am EST. Happy New Year! #GrandmaJoysRoadTrip

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We are grateful for the opportunity to serve as Hello Ranger ambassadors for Age & Ability. In the coming months, we will cover topics ranging from park accessibility to the best intergenerational hikes within the National Park System. We have met so many diverse people from around the world, but sadly we have not met many grandparents exploring the natural world with their grandchildren. If you’re like us, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened your eyes to the simple things we always took for granted: traveling to new lands, chatting with strangers on a trail, and giving your grandparents a hug. It is our greatest hope that you will follow our lead and explore the U.S. national parks with your loved ones when it is safe to do so again. It doesn’t matter how old you are, we all have the ability to soak up the wonders of Mother Nature. We all have the ability to choose Joy.

Header photo: Courtesy of @grandmajoysroadtrip

Brad Ryan is the founder of Grandma Joy’s Road Trip. After learning his octogenarian grandmother had never seen a mountain or an ocean, he began traveling with her to all the U.S. national parks. Four years later, Grandma Joy is now 90-years-old, and they’ve made up for lost time having checked 53/62 national parks off their bucket list. They share their journey on social media to promote a dual message of the value of intergenerational travel and environmental stewardship.


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