Not only did Grandma Joy spend her entire life without seeing an ocean, but Ryan also said she never saw mountains or "sand dunes, a cactus a major river or pueblo ruins."
Unconditional love comes in several shapes and sizes. 89-year-old Joy Ryan has lived a humble life in Duncan Falls, Ohio, which is "a small two-traffic light town," said her grandson Brad Ryan. She has left the state before, but she never really had the chance to see a lot when she did.
Ryan told CBS News that his grandparents would travel from Ohio to Okatibbee Lake in Central Florida every winter. This meant that they would drive through the middle of America and avoid the coasts. "I don't know why they never went to the coast. I asked her this, but I never found out," Ryan said.
Not only did Joy spend her entire life without seeing an ocean, but Ryan also said she never saw mountains or "sand dunes, a cactus a major river or pueblo ruins." However, he found a way to show her those things.
Ryan led the same life as his grandma. He grew up in the same small town that she did and did not travel much, but all of that changed when he went to college. He's now a wildlife vet at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
Ryan's first big trip was in college when he went hiking the Appalachian Trail. When he told Grandma Joy about the trip, she was astonished. "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."
Grandma Joy then said that she'd love to go camping and that she wanted to see mountains. She said that she doesn't even know what they look like, as she'd only ever seen them on TV before.
"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," Ryan said. "So, there was definitely no surplus of money for her to go and do these things." Ryan really wanted to help his grandma experience the world, but he didn't get the push of motivation until a tragedy happened.
When Ryan was in his final days of Vet school, a classmate had committed suicide. It was devastating news for the whole university. However, it helped put things in perspective for Ryan. "I thought, 'You know what, I need something to fill my cup right now. I want my grandma to have this experience.' So, we took a very impromptu three-day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park."
"During that trip, that's when I started to realize how unconventional it is for somebody in their 30s, a grandson, to be traveling around with their grandmother. We definitely stood out like sore thumbs everywhere we went," he said. During that trip they took in 2015, Ryan recalls that fellow travelers would stop them to ask what state they were from and where they were going.
"I knew that as we were traveling, [our story] was touching people's hearts, but I didn't know there were so many people who had regrets that they didn't do more with their grandparents when they were alive."
This inspired Ryan to spend more time with his grandma and to take her on more such journeys, Sadly, both of them were short on money, so Ryan had created the "Grandma Joy's Road Trip" GoFundMe page, which now seems to have been deactivated.
The money they raised from the fundraiser helped them pay for their first major road trip: 21 U.S. National Parks in 28 days. "That was the big one," Ryan said. Since then, they've been to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in their home state of Ohio and even went on a road trip south from Virginia to Florida, visiting four different parks. "And just about a month and a half ago, we finally checked off Acadia National Park up in Maine," Ryan said.
"That puts us at 29 U.S. National Parks out of 61 that we hope to complete. And we've done 25,000 miles on the road in the last three and a half years — and we've gone through 38 states," he said. That's pretty impressive, considering Grandma Joy is now 89 years old. "We've seen grizzly bears, we've been charged by a moose ... it was harrowing. We've had all these dramatic experience and seen all this wildlife that she's never set eyes on in Ohio," Ryan said.
Still, Grandma Joy gets a kick out of the simple things in life. "Her favorite animal that she's seen so far are prairie dogs. Which is kind of comical." The whole experience has adorned her life, but Ryan says Grandma Joy has always been a positive person.
"She's the kind of person that, despite the fact that she's had a lot of hardships in her life and she hasn't seen a lot, she would've maintained a positive outlook the rest of her life, even if she hadn't left the state," Ryan said.
"She says she wakes up every morning and says 'Thank you for another day,'" according to her grandson. At some point in their travels, Ryan started seeing the sights through his grandmother's eyes. "At her age, she's very cognizant that at every moment, she's probably seeing something for the first and last time, and that has dramatically changed the way I live my life as well," he said. These road trips have been fun, but they're far from over, and they're already planning their next ones to Hawaii and Alaska!