Michigan Native Bursts Into Tears Upon Seeing the Ocean for the First Time — on His 38th Birthday (Exclusive)

After spending his entire life in the Midwest, Jonathan Harris was overcome with emotion during his first visit to the coast

<p>Jonathan Harris</p> Jonathan Harris seeing the ocean for the first time

Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris seeing the ocean for the first time
  • TikTok's "Ranch Guy" Jonathan Harris posted footage from his emotional first encounter with the ocean

  • The Michigan-native journeyed to the beach on his 38th birthday, while he was visiting fellow content creator Gary Marandola in Rhode Island

  • Harris spoke to PEOPLE about what kept him from the coast for so long and what it was like to set eyes on the sea for the very first time

Jonathan Harris celebrated his 38th birthday somewhere he had never been before: by the sea.

Born and raised in Michigan, the content creator lived a land-locked life before this past April, when he got to see the ocean for the first time during a trip to Rhode Island. Harris posted footage from his emotional seaside encounter in a now-viral Instagram Reel with over 101,000 likes.

“POV: Getting to see the Ocean for the first time!” he captioned the clip, which sees him approaching the shore with tears in his eyes. Standing in front of the breaking waves under an overcast sky, Harris raised his arms in triumph.

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In the comments, Instagram users celebrated Harris’ appreciation for the beach, and many shared how the video gave them some perspective on all that they take for granted.

“I've lived near the ocean my whole life and never realized how special it must be for people who've always lived in further inland areas,” one person wrote.

Harris tells PEOPLE that these types of comments particularly resonate with him, having spent his entire life near another type of picturesque body of water.

<p>Jonathan Harris</p> Jonathan Harris seeing the ocean for the first time

Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris seeing the ocean for the first time

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“We've had friends that come up and we go to the [Great Lakes] and they're like, ‘Wow, this is gorgeous,’ ” says the native Midwesterner, who gained an online following with his obsession over ranch dressing. “I see it all the time, but for people who've never seen it, I see how you could really fall in love with something like this.”

Based on what he’d seen on television and in movies, Harris always imagined the ocean would look similar to the Great Lakes and would likely inspire the same type of awe in him — “I just expected it to seem like any old body of water,” he recalls.

The real deal swelled high above his expectations.

<p>Jonathan Harris</p> Jonathan Harris at Gillette Stadium

Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris at Gillette Stadium

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“I honestly just have no words to describe how amazing it felt seeing that water,” he tells PEOPLE of his first look at the ocean. “I straight up cried looking at it. I felt so overwhelmed. I felt such joy seeing something that I've always wanted to experience.”

During his childhood, Harris says his family couldn’t afford to vacation far from their home. Most of their relatives lived nearby too, so they only ever drove about an hour away for family gatherings.

“Going to the grocery store was [like] going to freaking Disney for most people because we never really got to do anything. I don't think I ever took a vacation until I was an adult,” says Harris, who works a day job coordinating dispatch for a trucking company.

<p>Jonathan Harris</p> Jonathan Harris and Gary Marandola

Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris and Gary Marandola

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Social media has expanded Harris’ world and afforded him the opportunity to take time off work and travel beyond the midwest. When fellow content creator Gary Marandola invited Harris to come collaborate with him in Rhode Island, he finally felt free to book the trip.

Even though Harris’ highly anticipated East Coast vacation was perfectly timed to his birthday, he tells PEOPLE that seeing the ocean was a completely spontaneous decision. Viral chef Marandola — who competed on season 1 of Next Level Chef — didn’t actually know it was Harris’ birthday until the day before.

<p>Jonathan Harris</p> Jonathan Harris with his wife, Sarah, and their sons

Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris with his wife, Sarah, and their sons

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Marandola was keen to make his guest’s dreams come true in honor of the special occasion, so despite cloudy conditions, they drove about 45 minutes from his house to hang out on the water.

Due to the chilly April weather, the friends only spent a few minutes at the beach, just enough time for Harris to look around and get his feet wet. Even though it was a birthday well spent, Marandola felt bad that Harris only got to experience the ocean during the off-season and has encouraged him to return during the summer.

<p>Jonathan Harris</p> Jonathan Harris and his wife, Sarah

Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris and his wife, Sarah

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Harris hopes to bring his wife Sarah and their sons Luke, 10, and Leo, 5, to see the coast for themselves this August, though he’s not yet sure if his work schedule and finances will allow a group getaway all the way out to Rhode Island.

But, if everything goes according to plan, Harris can’t wait to witness Sarah’s own first look at the sea: “I know she would enjoy it just as much as me,” he says.

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