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Voices in the Wilderness

Nov 29, 2016   |   Dartmouth Alumni Magazine

Bill Burgess '01 Th'02
Blade Runner

Talk about an unlikely world champion. Burgess fell short in his attempt to be a walk-on with the Dartmouth hockey team as a freshman and has little time for an intense training regimen. But never underestimate the power of a childhood dream that began on a frozen pond on long winter afternoons. The Washington, D.C., patent attorney is America's top speed-skating marathoner.

Burgess learned to skate at an Alaskan military base when his father, also named Bill, who served in the U.S. Army Special Operations, was transferred from Arizona to Anchorage. Determined to make life fun for his transplanted family, Bill senior taught his 7-year-old son to skate, a gift that would bond them for life. He also inspired the boy with tales of the Elfstedentocht (Dutch for "Eleven Cities Tour"), a 200-kilometer race through the frozen canals of Holland. "For the Dutch this event is bigger than the Super Bowl. Racing it became a dream of mine," says Burgess, who stays in shape playing hockey, biking and running marathons.

The Dutch canals have not frozen solidly since the 1990s but that hasn't stopped Burgess from joining the hundreds of long-distance skaters who compete each year in other races, most famously the Finland Ice Marathon. He has competed three times in the grueling 200-kilometer race just south of the Arctic Circle.

In 2015, on a day when thawing ice shortened the course and confounded his European competitors, Burgess was first to the finish line of the altered route. When the Dutch ambassador to Finland handed him the coveted marathon trophy, Bill senior was cheering from the stands.

Bob Mighell '85 Th'86
Three and Easy

Tilting Motor Works Trike

It had never been done before: a motorcycle with two wheels in front. Even the head of Western Washington University’s Vehicle Research Institute, one of the top schools for vehicle design, said it wasn't possible. "That was just about all the incentive I needed," says Mighell, who in 2005 turned an inexpensive Honda Rebel into a three-wheeler, also known as a trike. "I took it to the local motorcycle show. I spent the whole day there, talking about the bike. I realized, 'Hey, this might be a business!' " A decade later Mighell is the CEO of Tilting Motor Works, the company behind the trike that helped him break the land speed record for a three-wheel motorcycle. Twice.

Mighell, who grew up in Seattle, was riding motorcycles by age 12. At 18 he made his first cross-country ride, all the way to Hanover. He studied mechanical engineering at Dartmouth but says he learned as much about his craft by watching his father—a Dartmouth '52—fix VW bugs in their garage. After graduating, Mighell married, had three sons, earned his MBA at the University of Washington and spent the next 25 years in the medical industry. But motorcycles never stopped being his thing. "I used to pick up my kids from grade school on the back of my motorcycle."

His bolt-on replacement front end for Harleys and Hondas, which is on backorder for at least six months and costs about $10,000, recently landed Mighell an interview on Jay Leno’s Garage. Last year he met a retired VP from Harley Davidson: "Unbeknownst to me they spent several million dollars developing [a trike] and gave up. I met this guy. He's sitting on my bike and before he even asked, he fired up the motorcycle and took off. He comes back, parks the bike. He has a great big smile and says, 'That's what we were trying to build.' " —Abigail Drachman-Jones '03

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