MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. — While some might make a more concerted effort to turn off light switches or unplug unused electronics, one Clinton, Utah, native and Brigham Young University graduate conserves energy by applying it to his morning commute.
For more than two decades, David Dawson, Maxwell Air Force Base’s Air Force Officer Training School director of staff, has made the personal choice to ride his bicycle to work.
“After graduating high school, I went on a two-year missionary trip to the Dominican Republic,” Dawson said. “While there, I didn’t have a car, and I rode my bike everywhere. It became habit for me, so I continued to ride when I came back.”
After returning to the United States, Dawson continued to use his bicycle while attending college at BYU for mechanical engineering.
“I was never more than 5 or 6 miles from where I went to school, so I felt that I didn’t need a car,” he said. “Besides, at that point, I was a living on a conservative college student budget and was always looking to save money where I could.”
After college, Dawson crossed into the blue and arrived at his first duty station, Tyndall AFB, Florida.
“At that point I had already been commuting with my bike for eight years,” he said. “The weather in Panama City is perfect for biking and it continued to save me money. Also, the Air Force values a culture of healthy choices, and biking was just another way to relieve stress and make sure I found time to exercise throughout the day.”
Just as with the unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service, “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” keeps him from riding his bike.
Dawson rides his road bike from the neighboring community of Prattville, Alabama, to Maxwell, making his daily round-trip mileage approximately 20 miles.
“I ride no matter the weather,” he said. “At Maxwell, I may encounter severe rain, and, in that case, I have gear for that. In fact, the Air Force physical training uniform jacket and pants work great as a wind or rain repellent. I commit to this ride every morning, and it’s been a great way to learn about the local communities I live in while saving money and staying healthy — no matter the weather.”
This BYU grad doesn’t just commit his mornings to the ride, but his evenings, too.
“If I have to be at work by 5 a.m., I need to leave the house by 4:10 a.m.,” Dawson said. “Conversely, if I leave by 4:45 p.m. every day, I should be home before 6 p.m. On days that I need to be at work early, I like to be in bed by 7 p.m. to ensure I’m rested enough for the commute. So this lifestyle really requires a lot of prior planning and schedule discipline.”
A lot of the planning goes into what equipment to bring on the ride.
“I have equipment for every situation and weather,” Dawson said. “I also have a kit with tools that allows me to overcome about any bike malfunction that comes my way. Preventative maintenance is important when you bike as much as I do, and it’s recommended to change bike chains every 750 miles, so I go through approximately nine bike chains a year.”
Though he rides through high-traffic residential areas and highways, he never feels like he’s in any physical danger.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Seems like a dangerous thing to do,’ but I haven’t run into dangerous drivers, for the most part,” Dawson said. “The road shoulders here are pretty wide, but I stay far to the right and am courteous to the drivers.”
Dawson said one of the greatest things about biking to work has actually been the courteous drivers and seeing local military pride.
“The best thing about riding a bike to Maxwell every day is seeing Southern hospitality in action,” he said. “On bike rides, I get a chance to see people in action. Every time it has been raining hard or I’ve had a flat tire, someone will pull over and see if I need a ride. One morning, five people pulled over while I was fixing my tire, but I had the right equipment to fix it, so I politely declined. It turns out that the stem on my tube broke and one more person pulled over to offer me a ride so I accepted. That person said to me, ‘I just love Maxwell and have great respect for you guys. I’d love to offer you a ride.’ It makes me aware of what great people we have around the local community.”
Although this Clinton native’s 20-year energy-efficient commuting choice has inspired some random acts of kindness, he’s had a problem paying it forward.
“I offer people rides, but nobody wants to ride on my handlebars,” he said with a grin.