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USCU FALL15 Magazine Online

Traveling by horse and using pack mules to carry their gear, Draper said they spent about a week out in the wild. “We spent five days going out through Grand Teton National Park, crossing into Yellowstone Park and through backwoods forest service trails,” Draper said. “That was probably the coolest thing about it to me, I saw this part of the country in a way most people never will.” Draper said the group headed for Woodward Canyon, checking out the area and clearing trees along the way. The area had been hit pretty hard by a storm months earlier and their mission was to get those service trails to where they were passable once again. “For me, it was therapeutic working with my hands,” Draper said. “Working with these big horses that are so big and powerful, yet so docile.” Draper said in the evenings they would cook cans of Progresso soup on an open fire, share stories of their time in service and watch the night sky. “In class, I’m pretty quiet. I don’t say a lot about my military service, unless it’s something that would apply to our discussion in class,” Draper said. “But when you are with other veterans, you can say one word, and it sparks a memory and leads to swapping stories.” But Draper said in the quiet moments, he’d watch the sky. “There’s no cell service, no manmade light,” Draper noted. “We were on the downslopes of a meteor shower. I had never seen so many stars or lights in the sky. About every 30 seconds, you’d see something shooting across the sky. It was pretty phenomenal.” It would take about four hours each morning to ready their horses and the pack mules before heading out to the next location. Draper said it was tedious work as the knots had to be so precise and the loads carried by the pack mules and the horses had to be weighed and balanced on both sides. Acknowledging that he’d only ridden a horse once before this trip, he said the thought of being on a horse that had once been wild was intimidating at first. “I had done a trail ride where it doesn’t matter what you do, that horse knows it can only run from this point to that point and it’s not going to start running or stop running until then,” Draper said. “We did some pretty extensive horsemanship classes and we had to learn to control these horses, or they would control you.” Draper said they learned from a horse master about control and spent about three days in horsemanship classes before they left on the trip. “We would watch as he barely used the reins to make the horse do what he wanted, while the three of us were holding tightly to the reins struggling to turn these animals with both hands.” In addition to the horsemanship training, Draper had to be recertified in CPR and first aid, watch informational videos about bear avoidance and learn to use a cross-cut saw. Outside an old cabin in Hawk’s Rest, Draper said he played the guitar with an old man who had been a cowboy for more than 60 years. Those experiences differ greatly from his time in South Korea and Stick Guard, Germany, but are ones that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. “It’s something I’ll never forget,” stressed Draper. “The very first day, we saw bear and they were within like 50 feet from you. A bald eagle flew right over us, golden eagles were in the trees. When we’d cross through the rivers, you could see beaver dams. I’d never seen things this closely before.” Draper said he reflects back on that trip when he thinks about the future. “I’ve thought about going back into the service, although, I’d probably have to choose a different branch or maybe work for the forest service,” he said. Readying the horses and pack mules each morning was a lesson in precision and balance for Blake Draper ‘15 and others on the trip. 9  Fall 2015 Upstate Magazine


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