By the time she was 85 years old, Joy Ryan of Duncan Falls, Ohio, had never seen the ocean or mountains. Now, she's 93 years old and has seen every corner of the U.S. – after visiting all 63 U.S. National Parks. Joy went on the epic journey with her grandson, Brad Ryan, who was first inspired to travel with is grandmother in 2015.
"When I learned she had never seen the great wildernesses of America – deserts, mountains, oceans, you name it – I thought that was something that would haunt me if I didn't intervene in some way," Brad told CBS News in October 2022.
Joy told CBS News all the traveling she had done was "to the fishing hole."
"Every winter, my husband took me to Okeechobee and we fished. That was about the extent of my wandering," she said.
So, Brad decided to take her to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and that trip sparked an idea.
"The more I kept reading about the parks and I saw how close they were to one another, that we could make this giant loop, it became an obsession," Brad said.
"And all I could think about was, 'I've got to see Grandma Joy at Old Faithful, I've got to see her at the Redwoods, I've got to see her at the Grand Canyon. I just have to do this, I just have to have those memories for my own long-term happiness. I think we're two peas in a pod when it comes to just our desire for travel, adventure, connection.'"
The pair started planning road trips, hitting multiple parks each time they embarked on the road. When they spoke to CBS News in 2022, they had hit 62.
While the pair have found themselves on many adventures during their travels – whale watching in the Channel Islands and seeing larger-than-life trees in the Redwood Forest – some of their best moments happen in the car.
"We hit the road together and we start talking about our lives," Brad said. "And she told me things in her 80s and 90s about her life, some of the difficult things that she's been through, that she's never spoken to anybody in here life. And I was able to open up to her about some of the trials and tribulations of my own life. That's what, I think, is so powerful about the open road, is that you only can drive so far before those memories start to creep forward."
Joy, who has three children and four grandchildren, can still keep up with Brad when they're hiking mountains. Her secret to staying active? "Well, I guess it helps to be optimistic. And you have to have the will to do it. And I've been lucky health-wise that I'm able to do that," she said.
"She went white water rafting at 91," Brad said. "Class three rapids. She was braver than I was."
The 63rd and final stop on their epic tour was the National Park of American Samoa.
"It's about 6,700 miles from Ohio, where we live," Brad said. "It's the only U.S. National Park that's south of the equator. Way out in the South Pacific. It's a long haul, but we're excited to go."
There was a reason they left this park until the very end. "We can enjoy the beach, we can enjoy the beautiful tropical paradise. But as we've come to learn from the rangers that work there, American Samoa is an island community that is very firmly rooted in family," he said. "And I think that there's a bit of a poetic beauty to ending it there as well."
This week, the pair arrived in the tiny Pacific Island, more than 3,600 miles off the coast of Australia, and completed their goal. There, park rangers gave them certificates to celebrate the feat – one that Brad says "defied erroneous assumptions about the limitations of aging."
The fact that a grandmother in her 90s completed such a long journey may inspire others, but Brad has always known his grandmother as an inspiration who lived up to her name.
"She has already lived from a place of gratitude and joy. And that's a choice that she made," he said. "That's a power that we all have and a choice that we all have. And I think that's been my greatest lesson. And I think there's really no end in sight for Grandma Joy."
Meanwhile, Joy offered insight on living a long life.
"... I thank the Lord every morning for giving me another day. And it's your choice whether you're going to have a grumpy day or a sunny day. So, smile at everybody, and let everybody know you're having a whale of a time," she said.
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