Moderated Re: Inspiring Story About One of Our Own

Nick Laszlo <laszlonick@...>

Becky, that is so inspiring that I am speechless.  I have always felt that cycling is an analogy for life, and there is no better illustration of that than Jon’s story.

Albert Einstein, my hero, was once quoted as saying:  “The most important quality of a human being is endurance”.

Nick Laszlo 🚴‍♂️

On Oct 4, 2018, at 4:19 PM, Becky Smith <metalcowgurl@...> wrote:

Hello FFBC members,

As several of you may know, there were four FFBC members who participated in Pedal the Petrified 100K ride through the Petrified Forest National Park located in northeastern Arizona this past September. One of those members was Jon Graff, who has been doing it since 2014.

Jon had sent an email to friends of a bucket list of things he wanted to do before his cancer worsened, and asked people to join him. Pedal the Petrified was one of those items on the list, of which Sydney and Louis Friedenberg and myself (Becky Smith) signed up to do with him.

Long story short, Jon (aka Dr. Graff and paleontology hobbyist) made the ENTIRE ride in sweltering heat, not to mention he had just finished cancer treatments a few weeks prior. The event’s Executive Director, Betsyann Wilson, shared a heartwarming story of how Jon did that, which is pasted below with Jon’s picture, wearing the jersey he helped to design. Please take a moment to read it if you will. It is inspiring about one of our own.


****Betsyann’s Post Follows****

“Now I want to share a story with you.”

On the corner of your ride tee shirt are the initials “JG”. We added them this year to honor a longstanding silent partner of Pedal the Petrified, Mr. Jon Graff, Ph.D., of San Jose, California.Every September, Jon comes to the Petrified Forest to indulge two of his passions: riding his bike and volunteering with their Paleontology program. He works in the field collecting fossils and in the prep lab, cleaning them for display or study. And since 2014, when he was a mere child of 70, he has ridden the full Pedal the Petrified.  

This year, Jon wasn’t sure he’d be able to ride at all. The cancer he has fought for many years had resurfaced around the time of last year’s Pedal the Petrified, and had become very aggressive over the summer. We spoke often on the phone about whether he could even make the trip to the Petrified Forest this year. When his oncologist encouraged him to go, he expressed concern about whether he could do the bike ride, because he had begun to tire so easily. He arrived at the Petrified Forest on Labor Day weekend and let me know he planned to attempt the 50 km half-ride. His beautiful bike, “The Green Flash”, that he designed and built himself, was assembled, and he began practice rides of 20-25 miles with Chuck Beightol, a Ph.D. Paleontology candidate working at the park. “Will you ride with me on the day?” he asked me. “If I can keep up with you,” I replied. I wasn’t being flip; I know Jon Graff. 

I was going to introduce Jon to you at the ride start, because his generous support has helped to make the ride possible since 2015. But I couldn’t have gotten through it. Jon took off with Steve Buck, a local “retired” bike racer who introduced him to Pedal the Petrified, and Chuck Beightol.  I lingered to assist a couple of riders and confer with volunteers. I got away late but was able to catch up to the trio at Blue Mesa. Jon was riding steadily and having a rest and a visit with the sag crew there, including my son, who aspires to become a paleontologist. Jon has been a terrific advisor to him. We left for our next stop at Crystal Forest where Jon enjoyed his promised PBJ and a fresh plum. Pulling the hill above Rainbow, I rode ahead and alerted one of our photographers, Everett Robinson, that Jon was coming. Everett got a super photo of Jon coming over the hill on the Green Flash. Jon looked great and was riding strong – almost to his goal. As we pedaled over the bridge at Jim Camp Wash and into Rainbow Forest, I was so proud of him, and so humbled to be with him. 

At Rainbow Forest, he had a snack, then sat on a chair in the sun, eyes closed, and rested. I changed out of my sweaty clothes and got ready to drive sag for the afternoon. “How ya doing, Jon?” I asked. “I’m about ready to head back,” he said. But instead of boarding a shuttle, he sought the Green Flash, and Steve and Chuck. Steve and I exchanged a glance. “He wants to try the return trip,” Steve said. And so the trio rode away, pulling the hill out of Rainbow, Jon steady and tenacious. My daughter and I started patrolling for riders in need of assistance. Our work took us north as far as Puerco Pueblo, where we got water to take to Blue Mesa. Jon, Chuck and Steve had just arrived at Blue Mesa when we did. As you know, to claim the whole 100k, you have to ride the Blue Mesa spur in both directions. Jon wasn’t just going to ride the return leg; he was going to ring up the entire 100 kilometers. He lay down on a picnic table in the shade for a power nap.

When we next saw him, he was at Puerco Pueblo, fueling for the long uphill to Pintado Point. As many of you know, that incline, from the ride’s lowest point at Puerco Pueblo – around 5,400’ of elevation – to Pintado, the park’s highest point at 5,800’, especially coming at the end of the 100 km ride, is a significant challenge. It isn’t steep, but it seems to go on forever. It takes determination and perseverance, and a serious dig into the reserves. We returned to Tiponi Point to wait, cell phones at the ready, in case we were called to pick him up. Our crew of ride volunteers, who had started the day at 3:00 a.m., packed up the last sag stops and headed home.

Jon Graff rode into Tiponi just before 3:00 p.m., having completed the entire ride – all 100 kilometers. Amid the wild cheers of Steve Buck and Chuck Beightol, our Ride Directors, Lisa Jayne and Renell Heister, Lisa’s daughter Saryn, and my family and me, he beamed and said, “No one is more surprised that I finished than I am!” A month before, he hadn’t known whether he’d even make the trip to Arizona.

It is no understatement to say that Jon’s enduring sponsorship of Pedal the Petrified has directly resulted in scholarships that have literally changed the lives of dozens of Northland Pioneer College students. He has made a remarkable and lasting difference to them, and his establishment of the Jon Graff, Ph.D., Fund assures that his work continues. He has also made a remarkable and lasting difference in my life. He has been a gentle friend, a teacher and a mentor to my children. He is delightful to talk to, because he is interested in so many varied topics. He is so learned, yet he continues to seek knowledge. As my husband puts it, he shares the conversation beautifully. Jon’s cancer may have no cure, but he soundly and regularly continues to kick the hell out of it.

And his indomitable spirit is the most amazing, enduring thing about Jon. Since learning his prognosis was terminal, he’s been “bucket listing”, and my family and I are privileged to receive his “Reports from the Field” – emailed messages, with photos, letting us share in his adventures. He has ridden the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, explored Ireland, New York City and Civil War battlefields.  He has danced in Luckenbach, Texas and toured the Texas Hill Country. And through it all, he’s ridden thousands and thousands of miles on his bike. I am taken in by his stories and delighted by his experiences. But yesterday afternoon, seeing Jon Graff conquer the entire Pedal the Petrified is something that will live with me forever.

The little “JG” will remain on our Pedal the Petrified logo always, and we are working it into the design on the ride jersey – a design that Jon helped us create four years ago. When future riders ask me, as some of you did this year, what it means, I will tell them about Jon Graff. And now you can too. 



Betsyann WilsonExecutiveDirector

NPC Friends & Family

1611 South Main Street

Snowflake, AZ 85937



Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.

-Margaret Mead


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