The black soldiers who biked 2,000 miles over the mountains and out of American history.

As the sun set on their first day, the men of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps were cold, tired, and soaking wet. And they still had nearly 1,900 miles to go.

It was summer 1896. The 20 members of the 25th Infantry, an all-black company out of Fort Missoula, Montana, had been volunteered by their white commanding officer, 2nd Lt. James Moss, to study the feasibility of using bicycles in the military, which, unlike horses, required no food, water, or rest.

Moss was allowed to lead his men on a near-2,000-mile journey from Missoula to St. Louis, Missouri. The weather was punishing, the ride grueling, and the water poisonous. The men of the 25th were selected for the experiment, frankly, because as soldiers, they were worth little to the U.S. military.


Image via The Montana Experience: Stories from Big Sky Country/YouTube.

But odds are you haven't heard of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps. Their story was quickly forgotten, barely earning a mention in the pages of history books.

But in reality, these men were unsung heroes. Don't believe me? Here are nine reasons why.

1. Before the journey, many of the men didn't even know how to ride a bike.

Only five of the 20 soldiers were experienced bicycle riders ahead of the cross-country trek. One learned how to ride just a week prior. At the time, safety bicycles (the new model with two wheels of the same size as opposed to the large wheel on the front) were relatively new and exciting.

Photo of Pvt. John Findley, one of the few men in the company with any cycling experience. Image via The Montana Experience: Stories from Big Sky Country/YouTube.

2. The bicycles selected for the journey were on loan and extremely clunky.

The Spalding company donated bicycles for the experiment. The bikes had steel rims and no gears (those hadn't been invented yet). Each bicycle weighed in at 59 pounds, without gear. A heavy one-speed bike is just fine on a breezy ride through the country. But these men were traveling over mountains.

Are your legs tired yet?


Image via The Montana Experience: Stories from Big Sky Country/YouTube.

3. You know when your grandparents say they had to walk uphill both ways? This was the journey for the 25th. Only true.

The route to St. Louis was selected because the men would encounter diverse terrain — perfect for a test of military feasibility. The company traveled from the steep slopes of Montana through the dry, sandy roads of Nebraska. They encountered snow, rocks, mud, and punishing winds. They even crossed the rivers on foot, multiple times, holding their bikes over their heads.

"We were wet, cold and hungry, and a more jaded set of men never existed," wrote Edward Boos, a correspondent for the Daily Missoulian and an avid bicyclist who traveled with the 25th to report on their experiences.

Why didn't they just ride on the road? Good question.


The 25th riding past Old Faithful at Yellowstone. Image via The Montana Experience: Stories from Big Sky Country/YouTube.

4. The roads were so bad, the men often resorted to riding on train tracks.

The roads that existed at the time were worn down from wagon wheels creating deep rutted paths. And when it rained, they were washed away, replaced with thick mud. Instead, at times the men rode their bikes on the train tracks, which weren't much better considering there was nothing between the railroad ties but deep holes. The men held tight to their handlebars to keep from flipping over, resulting in hand numbness and intense shoulder pain for miles.

And you thought you were sore after a 50-minute spin class.

Image via The Montana Experience: Stories from Big Sky Country/YouTube.

5. Each soldier carried 55 pounds of gear on his bike.

Their supplies included half a tent, a bedroll, a pair of underwear, an undershirt, socks a toothbrush, two days worth of food (burnt bread, beans, bacon or canned beef, and coffee), various tools, and a rifle. Every 100 miles or so, the men would stop at posts to refill their supplies.

The supplies were kept in white rolls on the handlebars and in small custom leather or metal pouches attached to the bicycle frame. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons.

6. They barely got any rest, and at times when they did, it was amid cacti.

The men rode 35 full days of the 41-day journey. Considering the terrain, there weren't many good places to stop and rest. They often made camp in fields of prickly pear cactus, though few men reported being poked.

Image via The Montana Experience: Stories from Big Sky Country/YouTube.

7. And, oh yeah, the water was poisonous.

Because a 2,000-mile journey on a one-speed bike isn't tricky enough, once the soldiers got to Nebraska, they were drinking from water that had dangerously high levels of alkali and even cholera.

Vapors from the dusty terrain made the men sick, too. 2nd Lt. Moss even began to hallucinate.


Image via The Montana Experience: Stories from Big Sky Country/YouTube.

8. Because they were black, the 25th were often considered second-rate soldiers, but they were anything but.

The 25th Infantry were one of four all-black infantry regiments created by Congress after the Civil War. The army moved the unit out west to help tame the wild frontier, where they picked up the name "Buffalo Soldiers" from the Cheyenne.

The men were given slow horses, rotten food, and shoddy gear for the task. Despite the miserable treatment and conditions, though, black companies had some of the lowest desertion rates of regiments out west. And between 1870 and 1898, 23 black soldiers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Image via The Montana Experience: Stories from Big Sky Country/YouTube.

9. But when they reached St. Louis, the men received a warm welcome from the city's people.

2nd Lt. Moss and the 25th were escorted to a hotel just outside of town by a local bicycle club. Later, they performed maneuvers in a St. Louis parade, where 10,000 people came to cheer for them. Sadly, not a single military officer was there to greet them.


Image via The Montana Experience: Stories from Big Sky Country/YouTube.

The men had done it — traveling 1,900 miles in 41 days across some of the country's most punishing terrain. Moss wanted to continue the trip and travel to St. Paul, Minnesota. But he was told to return the bikes and send his men back to Montana on the train.

Despite a successful journey, the experiment was over.

The story of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps is one of those unique, surprising moments in U.S. history.

After the journey Boos wrote, "This hard work was too much. It could not prove anything about a bicycle and was merely a test of physical endurance of which we had quite sufficient."

120 years later, this story is about so much more than a bicycle. It's about adventure, guts, and mental and physical fortitude. Other than the all-black cast, it has all the makings of a big-budget Hollywood movie. (I kid, I kid.)

Image via The Montana Experience: Stories from Big Sky Country/YouTube.

Learn more about the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps from historians and their descendants in this documentary.


True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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