This past Sunday, I spent the day riding a bike 100 miles through searing 95-degree heat in Canada’s only desert. Bet you didn’t even realize Canada has a desert, did you? Well, we do. Trust me. And it’s freaking hot. After about 60 miles, I was ready to pack it in and grab a beer. But I gutted it out for another 40 miles, because that’s what cycling is about: gutting it out.
Just to put my accomplishment in humbling perspective, in the Tour de France, cyclists cover over 2,200 miles in 21 days, averaging somewhere around 110 miles a day. And they do it over some of the toughest climbs on the European continent and still have enough left to attack at the end.
If you’ve never ridden a long distance, you can’t fully appreciate how mind-boggling it is that these guys have enough left in their legs to sprint across the finish line. You can’t win the Tour without gutting it out. Luck plays a huge role, both positively and negatively (just ask Giro d’Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal, who got caught in a crash and had to withdraw), but at the end of tour, it’s the gutsiest performer who will prevail. I love cycling because it matches my personality: putting your head down and slogging it through to the finish line.
I give you this preamble because last week, the world of search marketing lost a very gutsy guy who also happened to be a cyclist.
I met Ron Jones when we both served on the board of SEMPO. I never really knew Ron that well, but within moments of meeting, we were both talking about cycling. That’s another thing you’ll learn about cyclists. It’s kind of like a secret handshake. We recognize each other immediately and then bore everyone else to tears talking about our favorite bikes (I ride a Trek, but damn those Pinarellos look fine), our favorite ride (aforesaid ride through the desert with none other than the incomparable Eddy Merckx), our own near-death experience (every cyclist has one) or our preferred brand of chamois butter (don’t ask).
Ron had all the earmarks of a serious cyclist: quiet determination, passion, drive and a ready smile. Ron had guts. He could go the distance -- and he did, in pretty much every aspect of his life. He was a driving force in the world of search, founding his own successful agency, writing a book and always giving back to the greater SEM community. He was a consummate family man. I never met his family, but you couldn’t talk to Ron long before the subject of his wife Tracey and his four kids came up. He was a mainstay in his church and community.
Yep, Ron knew how to gut it out and get it done.
But as I said, luck has a big part to play here as well. In Ron’s case, it was luck of the worst kind: a diagnosis of cancer. I haven’t seen Ron for a few years, so I learned about his passing from an email that went out to past members of the SEMPO board who were fortunate enough to have served with Ron.
I was devastated.
Ron was vital and alive and vibrant. He was a contributor. He was one of the great guys that cause you to smile automatically when you mention his name, because you hold the memory so fondly. It’s circumstances like this that cause you to say, “@#$%#, that’s not fair!”
I don’t know how Ron’s battle went. I wasn’t there for the climbs and descents. I don’t know how often he “bonked” on the way to the finish line. But I do know this. Ron gutted it out. He finished like the champion he was. And now, he’s got the wind at his back.
As part of this weekend’s ride, I got a souvenir shirt. I’m actually wearing it right now. On the front it says, “Ride Hard. Smile Often.”
That pretty much describes Ron Jones. He will be missed.