He was excited. His orange Trek road bike, greased and pristine, was waiting to spin its pedals. His calves were ready for the push, his mind anxious for the challenge. With him were not only his friends and teammates, but his son and daughter, who adopted their father’s love for cycling as children.
Five years ago, marriage and family counselor Dan Brown left on 360-mile bicycle ride from Watsonville to Malibu, a six-day journey to raise money for people in Lesotho, Africa — a country that had become close to his heart since Horizon Community Church in Galt started working there. He had done the ride the previous year, as well.
That ride in early July 2007 was a special one.
“He said it was his best trip,” his wife, Sharon Brown, recalls.
Sharon had stayed in Lodi to take care of their home, though her passion for the project was — and still remains — strong. Before he hopped in the van to go to Watsonville, he left a note for Sharon by the coffee pot. It had his life verse written on it — Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
He also wrote, “It’s going to be our best trip, ever.”
When Sharon spoke with Dan Brown, he told her it was spiritually and emotionally amazing, and he especially loved the opportunity to experience it with his son, Kevin Brown, and daughter, Mindi Rold.
That night, at the end of a long day of pedaling, was the last time Sharon Brown spoke to her husband of 40 years. Dan Brown died of a heart attack on the last night of the M360 in 2007. He was in the hotel bed, sleeping peacefully beside Kevin.
Though everyone had completed the 360 miles, including Dan Brown, a team and a family were jolted.
There was no doubt, in doing what he loved, Dan Brown left a legacy that is still making a difference.
Continuing a legacy
It was an unexpected struggle, but the family and the Horizon Bicycle Club used the tragedy to continue with the work Brown had been so passionate about. The group completed one of their most successful rides and established the Dan Brown Memorial Ride in 2008.
Since, the club has continued with the tradition and is preparing to embark July 7 on the seventh M360 from Watsonville to Malibu.
The ride will include about 50 friends, family and teammates. Not only are there cyclists on the road, a support crew will caravan beside them, providing everything from homecooked meals to medical care along the way.
As always, the goal is to raise money to improve life in Lesotho, a country that members of Horizon Community Church and other supporters have visited.
Mission 360 has raised close to $200,000 since it started eight years ago. The group first raised money for a project in Nicaragua, but started supporting Lesotho through World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization with a goal to fight world hunger.
Many of the members of M360, including Sharon and Kevin Brown have made trips to Lesotho to work and to meet the children and families they are trying to help. Last year, M360 raised funds for a medical clinic. This year, they want to build a foot bridge, so people can easily get to school and jobs in an area where several children have died because there is no bridge.
‘The kids in Africa are praying for us’
The cyclists generally travel along Highway 1, though often sticking to smaller roads with less congestion and obstacles. After vans take them from Lodi to Watsonville, they embark on the journey they will take through fields and overlooking cliffs along Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Cambria and Ventura.
Traveling between 50 and 72 miles in a single day, the terrain can be tough, the hills high. But Rold says the main mission is always on their mind.
“It’s hard to complain when you know the kids in Africa are praying for us,” she said.
At night, a support team following them in a caravan prepares homecooked dinners, like spaghetti or tri-tip. They rest, fill up, pray, play music and then sleep in tents along the way. On the final day in Malibu, the group celebrates the finale with a night at the Hilton before friends and family meet them in cars to ride home.
M360 is not for the faint of heart, though people of all ages and backgrounds gear up and pedal the route. The youngest rider is Kevin Brown’s son, Trevor, who is 7 years old.
Kevin will share a tandem bike with his daughter, McKenna, 10, and Trevor will ride an extension on the tandem.
Most of the M360 riders are members of the Horizon Bicycle Club based out of of Horizon Church, though not all of the riders attend the church.
The first year Mindi Rold did the ride, it was a personal physical challenge. She’d heard all the stories from her brother and father who did it before her.
Now, though, she does it largely for her father, who would be proud that M360 is going strong and working toward a purpose of helping a faraway community.
“He had such a big heart for people and serving,” she said.
Dan Brown was a family man, so much so that he was a marriage and family counselor at Lodi Family Guidance Center for 25 years. He was also a youth pastor. His sons followed in his footsteps. Kevin Brown is associate pastor and marriage and family therapist at Horizon Community Church. And his other son, Josh Brown, is a counselor in Sacramento. Dan Brown attended First Baptist Church in Lodi with his wife, but they were equally involved with Horizon Community Church in Galt.
Riding out of love
Pastoring is not the only thing Kevin Brown learned from his father. It was also a love for cycling. Mission 360 was created out of rides Kevin Brown would take with Dan. It was a father-son venture that he first completed at the age of 12.
The church had already been involved with World Vision, but when they presented the idea of starting a fundraising bike run, people became excited and passionate about raising money for a third world country.
Kevin Brown visited Lesotho, and saw first hand the needs of the people, from food to schools.
In Lesotho, Brown was moved by the graciousness the community showed.
“When I went to Africa, the response I got was like (I was) a movie star coming into their country. They danced for us. It’s scary how much they looked to us,” he said.
It may be those faces that inspire Brown as he rides over Highway 1’s hills over those six days, but it’s also the memory and spirit of his father. He says his father would be proud of the group. And he thinks of his father each day on the road.
Brown was sleeping beside his father the night he died. They talked about things Kevin Brown will never forget.
“We had an incredible conversation,” Brown said. “It was almost nostalgic at how great that conversation was. He passed peacefully.”
Kevin wishes his dad was here to ride beside him in a few weeks. He misses his big bear hugs the most. The shoulder rubs, too. But one thing he is thankful for is an opportunity to have had a father like Dan Brown, a man who loved and cared until the end.
“My dad loved people unconditionally. He loved those no one really loved,” Kevin Brown said.
Contact Lodi Living editor Lauren Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.