Adventure Travelers

 

Written by Heide Brandes in the December 2012 Issue

Adventure TravelersBill & Susan Dragoo sit back in their comfortable deep chairs and laugh about that day they got lost in the slums of Kathmandu. Winding through the sinister rambling grottos while trying to find a bar frequented by bicyclists who explore Nepal, they wandered through the shadows, dodging lurking men and filth. Susan was not amused. Bill was pragmatic.

They never found that bar, but they found yet another story to share about exploring the world and not fearing the unknown. World travelers, writers, motorcycle enthusiasts and storytellers, the Dragoos are Oklahoma’s answer to Will Steger and Jessica Watson—curious explorers of both America’s wild and the planet’s wildest places.

From being uncomfortable in Beijing to being zapped by the famous suicide showers in Costa Rica to trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp in Nepal, the adventurous life of Susan and Bill Dragoo just started with a step and a willingness to try anything.

Bill Dragoo earned his love of adventure in the Boy Scouts and has never lost that yearning for the outdoors.

He teaches seminars at Backwoods Outfitters on how to pack light and other topics, and it was a contest through Backwoods that sent him and his wife to Nepal in October. Susan is an executive at Integris Health in Edmond. She and Bill met at a Bible study in 2003, and their first date was on the back of a Harley Davidson to see the Harley Drag Races in Oklahoma City. “I had traveled for business and to see family, but Bill and I really stepped it up when we met,” said Susan. “Our honeymoon was in Italy, and we rode motorcycles from Rome to Chique Terre. It was beautiful, of course, and we’ve been busy since then.”

After marrying, the two began backpacking on a regular basis and Susan invested in her first dirt bike. In 2007, China beckoned and the couple, along with Susan’s youngest son, trekked the Tiger Leaping Gorge and hiked the Great Wall. “Asia is a challenging place,” said Bill. “The food is strange, it’s dirty and you can’t speak the language. But you have to pay to play. It’s not always comfortable like here, but if you want to experience something unique, you may have to pay and deal with sleeping on a straw bed or having rats in your room.”

From Utah’s Buckskin slot canyon to Mozambique in South Africa to the rocky terrain of Nepal, the Dragoos just do it.

For many, adventuring seems impossible, but Susan says anyone can do it if he or she believes it. “Most people just don’t see that in themselves, but it’s there,” she said. “Fear is what stops them. It’s not the kids, or the job or the bills­—it’s not believing they are able to do it.”

Susan and Bill Dragoo, Oklahoma intrepid explorers, share their best tips on how to discover the magic of fierce places and how to begin to live the astonishing fearless life.

Grab Opportunity.

A bicycling enthusiast, Bill spent 17 years in the car business before realizing he wanted something more in life. So, he quit his job in 2001 and spent 53 days riding his bike from Bar Harbour, Maine, to Anacortes, Washington. “It was 4,203.6 miles, and that’s when I learned to pack light,” Bill said. “From that point, I never wanted to go back.”

After that trip and after he met Susan, Bill began writing articles for Adventure Motorcycle Dual Sport News and traveled to California to cover the American Adventure Riding Challenge. Not only did he write about it, he competed in it and won—as one of the older competitors! Although he wasn’t chosen for the BMW GS Trophy Competition Team that year, he made it the second time he competed. That competition brought him to Mozambique, South Africa. “I’ve been to Costa Rica, Mexico (when they said you shouldn’t go to Mexico) and China,” he said. “People in general think they don’t have enough time or money. Grab those opportunities.”

Plan well, but embrace serendipity.

Susan likes to prepare. Scary smart, she grasps solutions and plans better than most people, which makes her a perfect companion for the fly-wild Bill. She’s adaptable about how and what needs to be done. “Start a plan and make it happen,” Susan said. “Right now, I’m thinking of going on a through-hike (long trail hike) of 223 miles in the Ozark Highlands. Start planning, but leave yourself open to chance as well.”

A perfect example is when Bill and Susan were visiting the rough and primitive area of Big Bend National Park. They didn’t make reservations because they didn’t know how far they would make it each day. “Be flexible, but be well-prepared. If you camp over winter—which is the best time to visit Big Bend—make sure you have warm sleeping bags and gear. Be aware.”

Both recommend knowing enough about where you are going to be well-equipped but to be flexible enough to enjoy the unexpected adventures that arise from the unknown.

Start small. Start local. 

Not everyone can jump right into a trek across Nepal or weeks in Beijing. Sometimes a big escapade can start in the backyard. “If you want to be a backpacker, be a hiker first. There are some great places to explore close to home, like the Wichita Mountains or the trails around Lake Thunderbird,” said Susan. “Test yourself closer to home. Do short trips. Try a two-night backpacking trip to the Ouachita Trails. Work with someone experienced to get those skills and just start somewhere.”

Know your limits.    

Bill says he would never recommend that everyone quit their job to travel the world. He knows not everyone is in a position to do that, and not every-one wants to. “I present a story called ‘Adventure Dreams’ because everyone has a story and a dream. You have to acknowledge that everyone has dreams and our limits are only those that we impose upon ourselves,” Bill said. “Sure, we have kids, homes and bills, but in most cases, these aren’t what keep us from doing it. It’s fear—fear that you can’t sleep in a tent or speak the language.”

Of course, there are physical limitations that have to be considered as well as a person’s skill level. “It depends on what your idea of a real adventure is,” Bill said. “But no matter what, you’ve got to get out of the hotel and get a little uncomfortable. Adventures happen when things are unexpected. It doesn’t have to be unsafe, just unexpected. I don’t have much to offer to those who don’t leave the hotel.”

Believe and have fun! 

“Dream big and believe in yourself,” Bill said. “Believe you can do it and just try it. You’ll see things you don’t expect—like just how big the Milky Way is when you leave the lights behind.”

Susan said that believing you can handle situations and having the confidence to get though uncomfortable situations is key to enjoying and exploring the world. From climbing Elk Mountain in Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains to joining a hiking club at Backwoods, she said most people are surprised by what they discover they can do. “Don’t think you can’t do it; think you can do it,” she said. “Find your physical range. Realize that you don’t have forever—so decide to go ahead, make a plan and just do it. The key for me is that I think about what I want to accomplish. I create a list of intentions and state my goals. There’s a lot of power in stating your goals.”


California

Tempting Fate

May 2010

Bill tempts  both fate and traction on California's Highway 1 in celebration of his victory in the 2010 Adventure Riders' Challenge competition. His place in this event earned him a spot on a three-man team representing the United States in a world-class motorcycle contest where 13 countries competed in South Africa for the coveted BMW GS Trophy.


Nevada

Slot Canyon

April 2012

Susan negotiates a slot canyon on the White Domes Trail in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada. One of her latest passions is exploring these cracks in the Earth's strata, witnessing a natural beauty seen only by a few.


California

Big Sur, California

May 2012

One of the country's most beautiful stretches of highway passes through Big Sur, California. With the Adventure Rider's Challenge competition behind them, Bill and Susan enjoy a moment overlooking the Pacific Coast en route to northern California for more motorcycle adventures.


Utah

Canyonlands National Park

May 2012

The White Rim Trail begs contemplation with its magical vistas and lingering ghosts of the ancients in Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah. Bill takes a break during a hike on the Fort Bottom Trail to an Anasazi ruin on a point overlooking the Green River. The 100-mile Trail offers spectacular views of the Green and Colorado rivers along and around the island in the Sky mesa.


Alaska

Mount Marathon

August 2012

Bill peers over a ridge near the race summit of Mount Marathon, a 4,600-foot peak overlooking Seward, Alaska and Resurrection Bay. This mountain is the site of Alaska's most famous footrace, begun around 1915. The Dragoos ascended via the gentler "hiker's trail," with a steep scramble t the summit, then returned by way of the "runner's trail," surfing scree on the near-vertical descent.


Exit GlacierJohnny joins his parents for an ice hike in Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward, Alaska. Crampons and helmets are a necessity when negotiating the crevasses and moulins of of Exit Glacier.


Orca IslandBill's camera captures Susan in awe of her surroundings as they paddle a sea kayak near Orca Island, nine miles by boat from Seward, Alaska. Visitors to the tiny private island are lodged in eco-friendly yurts. The duo seldom misses an opportunity to get off the grid where the noise of the city is only a distant memory.


Texas

Wichita Falls, Texas

August 2012

The Hotter N Hell 100 is the region's iconic endurance ride for bicyclists. Bill, a veteran of several Hotter N Hell rides, accompanied Susan for her first—in and around Wichita Falls, Texas.


Columbia

Columbia

September 2012

Motorcycles represent fun and adventure, not matter what the language. Bill seldom misses a chance to share the joy with local children he meets along the way. These kids in rural Colombia are happy to oblige the camera as they give a hearty thumbs up to the world far away.


Nepal

Nepal

October 2012

The Dudh Kosi is a river draining the Mount Everest massif in eastern Nepal. Bill and Susan prepare to cross a suspension bridge over the rushing watercourse on a hike to Everest Base Camp. The pair's two-week, 80-mile trek to Base Camp, at just over 17,000 fee elevation, began in the village of Lukla after a flight from Kathmandu into "the worlds most dangerous airport."

4 Comments

Cody Says:
December 4th, 2012 at 1:17 pm
Bill, is a lucky man. He found a woman to match his curiousity of what lies around the next bend in the river.

Leah Jackson Says:
December 6th, 2012 at 9:13 am
Great article about theDragoos. Besides being people of high adventure they are dedicated to the cause of Christ and their lives reflect this dedication in word and deed. They have faithfully hosted a Journey Church small group for several years and unobtrusively make a difference for Good as they travel through life.

Bill Dragoo Says:
February 5th, 2013 at 7:26 am
Cody, you are correct in your observation that the woman in my life not only matches, but exemplifies the kinds of adventure I love. And Leah, thank you for recognizing the higher values we hold dear, although it is you, the very souls who join us each week who inspire us. Without our friends, our loved ones, does anything else really matter?

Karen Carothers Says:
February 14th, 2013 at 10:17 pm
What a great article. I am so proud to count the two of you as friends and look forward to sharing more adventures together.
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