A snowmobiler’s dream: Tiskilwa native rides from Peru to northern Wisconsin

This year’s snow conditions make “impossible trip” a possibility

Tiskilwa native Chad Colby crossed an item off his bucket list this week.

For years, he’s talked about riding his snowmobile from Bureau County to Eagle River, Wisconsin. It’s a trip that can only happen when the snow conditions are just right, and he says snow conditions haven’t been as optimal as they are this year for the past 20 years.

We’re talking about a 620-mile trip, which Colby rode in just two days before turning around and riding home.

Colby’s history with snowmobiles can be traced back to his childhood. He grew up with the family having snowmobiles in the 70s and 80s, and it’s what they used on the farm to get around during the long winter months.

Colby eventually got into snowmobile racing which took him from California to New York and nearly every trail in between.

He quit racing in 2011 but still trail rides every winter. He’s ridden tens of thousands of miles in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and Michigan, but always had it in his mind that he’d ride there from Bureau County someday.

“This is epic,” he said. “If you’re a snowmobiler from Illinois, you get it.”

Early this week, he suited up his 2021 Polaris Indy XC 650 with minimal but essential supplies in case of any sort of mechanical issue or emergency. His sled includes two removable storage bags on the back. One filled with some clothes and the other with supplies in case of sled troubles. He’s got tools, a flashlight, carbides, gloves, extra googles and parts. He’s also got storage on the front of the sled for small things like a phone, USB charger and wallet.

On Wednesday morning, he began a 270-mile trip from Leone’s Polaris in Peru – the dealership where he bought his first sled in 1991. Fun fact is that Jim Leone, owner of Leone’s Polaris, was also making the same trek this week to Eagle River with friends but started his journey in Prophetstown. It was Colby’s mission to meet up with Leone and the guys along the journey.

Colby began his ride along the Hennepin Canal, making a stop at Lock 10 in his hometown of Tiskilwa before riding up to Rock Falls where he exited the canal and was greeted by a couple of Leone’s customers who were following his recorded journey on Facebook.

He then rode north to Freeport, Illinois, and into Monroe and New Glarus, Wisconsin, and stayed overnight just south of the Wisconsin Dells. He said the first part of the trip was amazing, despite running into unmarked trails from Rock Falls to the Badger State Trail, which set him back only a few miles.

On Thursday morning, he left about 7 a.m. and rode about 100 miles north of the Dells, where he discovered snow conditions were marginal at best due to exposed rough terrain. It slowed him down a bit. While he thought about stopping Thursday and finishing Friday morning, he ended up running into Leone and the guys who had stopped at a local restaurant to rest for a bit. Colby joined them and said it was the first time he’d taken off his snowmobile helmet since 7 a.m.

After a much-needed rest, the guys rode another 70 miles up to Eagle River.

Colby admitted at dinner that he was not in the mood to talk about the return trip home, but after a great night’s sleep, he was “absolutely ready to ride back.”

“It’s in my DNA, and I love the mission,” he said, adding that he had to coach himself off the plateau.

“It’s about the mission, and a big part of the mission is you have to finish. At the International 500 Race, a renowned cross country race, I’ve only not finished once out of five efforts, and that’s because I had a mechanical issue.”

Something that kept him going were the numerous messages from friends checking in on him. He had many followers on his social media page following his trek.

Brian Leone, a longtime friend and son of Jim Leone, has been following Colby and his dad’s trek up north. Leone said he would have been on the trip himself if it wasn’t for a leg injury he’s currently dealing with.

“It should have been a three-day trip, not a two-day trip, but [Colby] is pretty ambitious,” he said.

Leone also talked about how snow conditions make this trip nearly impossible most winters.

“We’ve had more snow here than we’ve had since 1985,” he said. “And it’s lasted longer than before.”

Leone said it seems that when there’s snow in Illinois, there’s none up in Wisconsin and vice versa.

“Many snowmobilers have this trip on their bucket list, but not many get to do it,” he said.

He added that while people do a lot of talking about this trip, there’s also not many who will go through with it, as they’re not as adventurous as they say. While many are used to groomed trails, the “off-the-beaten-path” trails farther north tend to make people less comfortable.

Colby said this trip has allowed him reflect back on his past days of racing.

“It brought back a lot of memories and a lot of thoughts of a lot of people,” he said.

On Friday afternoon, Colby left Eagle River and rode down to Antigo, Wisconsin, where he stayed overnight. His Saturday plans included traveling 250 to 300 miles to New Glarus. Then Sunday another 160 miles back to Leone’s in Peru.

Goldie Rapp

Goldie Rapp is the Associate Editor of the Bureau County Republican and Putnam County Record. She has worked for Shaw Media since 2013.