PORTER, Ind. (WTHR) — Joy Ryan, 89, is seeing the best nature has to offer, while she can, thanks to her adult grandson, Brad Ryan.
"Oh, how beautiful! Look at that. I'm telling you, you can't beat Mother Nature,” Joy said as she walked down to Kemil Beach on a gorgeous fall day at the Indiana Dunes National Park.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore just became a United States national park earlier this year. The nearly 25-mile stretch along Lake Michigan marked the 31st national park on Grandma Joy's Road Trip.
"Every park has something special,” Joy said. “It's hard to explain to people because words don't describe what you're seeing. It's really great.”
“So seeing sand dunes along this beautiful, expansive lake, you're not going to find that anywhere else in the country," Brad said.
The adventure began four years ago with an impromptu weekend camping trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Grandma and grandson slept in the park in a tent. Now the intergenerational traveling pair from Zanesville, Ohio, have a hotel sponsor for their mission to visit all 61 national parks.
"To a lot of people, that's kind of unfathomable that somebody this age would be sleeping in a tent,” Brad said. “She never complained. But certainly, when we have the ability to stay in a Hyatt, it's going to regenerate her.”
“Yea, we're going to live it up," interjected Joy with a big chuckle.
Grandma Joy lives it up at America's national landmarks while becoming a bit of a national media sensation through news stories like this one.
"I can't believe it,” she said. “Who makes any difference about me? Good gravy, I'm just an old woman.”
“But an old woman who's doing something singularly special,” added Brad. A Go Fund Me campaign helped pay for their trip two years ago to visit 21 parks in 28 days out west. The visit to Indiana Dunes started a six-week vacation this fall. When they finish November 7, Joy and Brad will have visited every national park in the contiguous United States. 12 more are in Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. territories in the Caribbean.
Grandma Joy has been widowed for 20 years without the means to travel. Brad took a break from his job as a veterinarian with the Smithsonian Global Health Program to bridge the generation gap.
"Make time before you have the regrets, because I'm hearing all kinds of stories from around the world and unfortunately there are people who say, 'I missed my chance. I really regret it. I'm living vicariously through you.’” Brad said.
"Maybe it will wake people up to think maybe Grandma and Grandpa would like to see me," Joy said. “Maybe they would like to do something. Maybe you'd like to just take them to the park or take them out for lunch."
Grandma Joy is scheduled to have a knee operation in December. But she said she’ll be raring to go next spring, hoping to reach the goal of visiting all the national parks to celebrate her 90th birthday.
"I must have five pounds of sand in each shoe,” said Joy as she walked off the beach.
Grandma Joy is enjoying the view but still has so much to see.