ST. LOUIS ( -- At 85-years-old, Grandma Joy had never seen the ocean or mountains. Her grandson, Brad Ryan, decided he would take her on the trip of a lifetime, visiting all national parks in the continental United States.

On Thursday, Nov. 7, four years after starting their journey they’ll visit their final national park in the continental US, the Gateway Arch.

Grandma Joy and Ryan began their trip in 2015. Ryan said his grandmother had lived a humble life in Duncan Falls, Ohio. He described it as a “small two-traffic light town.” She had left the state before, but didn’t see much of the country when she did.

Ryan said his grandparents would drive from Ohio to Central Florida but never drove to the coasts.

“I don’t know why they never went to the coast,” Ryan said. “I asked her this, but I never found out.”

Ryan, who also grew up in Duncan Falls, said he didn’t travel much either until he went to college. He’s a wildlife veterinarian at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

It was Ryan’s trip hiking the Appalachian trail that caught Grandma Joy’s interest.

“She told me at that time that she really, really regretted that she didn’t get to do more of that type of thing and have more experiences in life,” Ryan said.

“She was 85-years-old, sitting in this tiny house, widowed for 20 years. Two of her three sons died in their 40s. She worked a minimum wage job until she was in her early 80s to make ends meet. So there was definitely no surplus of money for her to go and do these things,” Ryan added.

The duo took an impromptu trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where Grandma climbed to the top, and said they stuck out like sore thumbs. People would stop them and ask where they were from and what they were doing.

"[Ryan] kept saying, 'Grandma, I'll take you back down, you don't have to go.' But I said I'm getting up this mountain if it kills me. And I did," Grandma Joy said.

View photos from Grandma Joy and Brad's journey

Not having the money to visit all the national parks, Ryan set up a GoFundMe that paid for their first major road trip: 21 national parks in 28 days.

Now, at 89-years-old Grandma Joy and Ryan arrived in St. Louis Thursday before heading home to Ohio.

She really enjoyed the tram ride but when the doors opened, the feet that climbed a mountain only had 21 steps to go before getting to the top of the Arch. 

Do Grandma Joy and Ryan have plans to visit parks outside of the continental US? Yes, Ryan said. In December, they're headed to Hawaii to visit the national parks there. 

"Then when I come back I'm going to get my knee operated on 'cause I got a bad knee," Grandma Joy said.

"I want all the Grandma Joys in the world to know that life doesn't end because your knees hurt," Ryan said.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.