Wild At Heart
ADRENALINE JUNKIE, SUSAN KLOPFER
story: Jim Dyar photos: Kara Stewart
As a favor to Susan Klopfer, please do not mention any new action-adventure activities you might be involved in. There’s too much on her plate already. Plus, she has a serious weak spot for anything that involves adrenaline.
We’re talking about a woman, after all, who has ridden on the back of ostriches. She’s raced camels in Australia. She drives her Mini Cooper sports car at high speeds on racetracks like Laguna Seca, Thunderhill Raceway Park and Infineon. She flies ultralight planes, skydives and has ridden her 20-year-old Harley-Davidson across the country. And this is just scratching the surface.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie,” says Klopfer. “There’s so much to do and experience doing in life. I’ll try anything.”
When she’s not hurling along at high speeds, you might find Klopfer waiting tables at the Cedar Tree Restaurant in Palo Cedro, an establishment she’s owned for the past 21 years. Some of her patrons tip her and tell her to put the money toward her exciting lifestyle. Not everyone can be so daring, but they do enjoy living vicariously through her.
At the Cedar Tree, Klopfer says she and her staff pride themselves on the “real food” made from scratch, generous portions and a comfortable atmosphere where customers feel right at home. “We’re not a chain,” she adds. “It’s just me and my crew.” Down a hallway that leads to her office, several photos reveal the diversity and colorful nature of her life.
Klopfer was a Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association barrel racer for seven years and won two California Cowboy Pro Rodeo Association state championships. The sport took her all across the United States, feeding both her passion for speed and her love for travel.
“I loved the performance of the horse and I loved seeing the country, all the small towns,” Klopfer says. “I was gone on the road so much, almost 12 months a year. I got wrapped up in it pretty good, but I still had this other life.”
Those who know Klopfer know she loves more than just horses. She owns two zebras (Zahara and Zeus), two camels (Nile and Hannibal), an Asian water buffalo (Boomerang), an ostrich (Shaba), two miniature donkeys and two horses.
She uses the animals to help advertise for the restaurant, but just to keep things straight – they’re never actually on the menu.
“They’re my pets, my kids,” she says. “I don’t have a good story (for why I have them). You just do what feels good to you. People say, ‘But they’re exotic.’ I say, ‘No, I got them all here in the United States.’ ”
During a trip to the Kentucky Derby in 1992, Klopfer found herself at a zoo called the Kentucky Down Under. She found out where the zoo had acquired a camel, and within hours, she was at a camel farm purchasing one of her own. Over the years, she learned where to obtain the other animals domestically.
Aside from restaurants, action sports and interesting animals, Klopfer is also a big fan of world travel. She rode a camel to see the Great Pyramids in Egypt (as well as a boat trip on the Nile River). She’s been on a photo safari that covered most of Kenya. She’s traveled to New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, the Caribbean and nearly every country in Europe.
A native of Los Angeles who was raised in tiny Hyampom (near Hayfork), Klopfer’s parents were also fans of traveling. Staring at her father’s photos as a kid made her want to visit every place he had snapped an image.
She looks for sweet deals on the Internet and isn’t afraid to leave at a moment’s notice. Traveling is its own kind of adrenaline rush.
“When you go to a foreign country you’re going to experience something and you don’t know what,” Klopfer says. “I’m not a tour bus person.”
So what explains Klopfer’s passion for soaking in every ounce of life she can? A near-death experience more than two decades ago left her thankful for every day. She also overcame a fight with cancer in 1986. More recently, becoming single has increased her interest in getting out and trying new experiences.
“My whole thing is, you make life what you want it to be,” she says. “Every day that the sun rises and sets is the best day of my life. You don’t let life pass you by.”