ARLINGTON, Va. — It's called the Beartooth Challenge, and if you think that sounds grueling, you'd be right. But even a pounding snowstorm at nearly 11,000 feet couldn't stop Soldiers from the Fort Carson Soldier Recovery Unit in Colorado, who cycled over Beartooth Pass near the border between Montana and Wyoming this past fall.
The Beartooth Highway is a 68.7-mile-long road that meanders along the northeast edge of Yellowstone National Park. The direction of the road changes not just from north to south and back again, but also vertically: over one 12-mile stretch, the elevation shoots up from 5,200 feet to its peak of 10,947 feet.
Marc Cattapan, adaptive reconditioning support specialist at the Fort Carson SRU in Colorado who participated in the ride, said that the bicycle ride — which was first held in 2019 — was a great opportunity for military members to challenge themselves and bond at the same time.
"Basically, it's for injured military members," Cattapan said. "It's not just a physical challenge, but an emotional and psychological boost being around other military members. The camaraderie and the social aspect were fantastic. Military people like to be around each other and push each other to the limits."
Cattapan called it a "super tough but great" event. He served as the tandem pilot for one of two blind soldiers from Fort Carson. Overall, they rode 208 miles as part of the challenge — and there was plenty of good-natured smack talk between his tandem group and the other.
Staff Sgt. Mike Murphy, Cattapan's tandem partner, has since transitioned out of the SRU and into the community, but he wants to tackle the challenge again in 2021. Overall, 13 service members and two civilians — including Cattapan — participated from the SRU.
Murphy said it was his first big adaptive bicycling endurance event.
"Overall it was a fantastic learning experience to build towards all my future cycling endeavors and I cannot wait to spread the word about all the adaptive events that are helping rehabilitate our disabled vets," he said.
The ride took place over three days. It started off riding along the rolling hills and plains along the Rocky Mountains, and the second day they began the main part of the climb as they reached the edge of Yellowstone Park.
It was an experience like no other, he said.
"You get down in the valleys and it's warm at 80 degrees, and then you get up to the mountain passes and it was cool and windy at the top," he said. "Then you had to go back down to the valley, so there's a drop of 20 to 25 degrees [in temperature]."
It was the third day that really challenged the group.
"We had to climb Beartooth Pass," he said. "We climbed all the way up to almost 11,000 feet, and that was insane because a stormfront passed over, so we had to climb into the storm and it started snowing on us."
It was so cold that some didn't have the proper gear and had to jump into nearby vehicles to escape the weather.
"We all got frozen to the bone even with some warmer gear on," Cattapan said. But it was cool because we won't forget it. When you all suffer together but complete a crazy, fun challenge ride, it's one of those things that sticks with you."