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  • Andy Hitch

Backbone Adventures: A Rocky Road to the Top

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

Growing up in Estes Park and working as a wrangler at a guest ranch when I was 19, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Unfortunately, poverty and circumstances had other plans for me.

I started my first business in 1991 with the help of my wife. At 21, we didn't know what the hell we were doing. We spent the next decade working our small record store and barely getting by. Eventually, the era of online music came too be, and we ceased to be.

In 1996 I started making guitar amplifiers and speakers. In 2001, I was able to transition from the record store, into manufacturing. I started a company called Madison Amps. That company was a great experience as I got to work with famous musicians from around the world. The money was amazing as well. However, it all ended in 2009 after the economic collapse. In the end, I was able to walk away with $40,000. That same year, I started a motorcycle shop. That lasted 4 months before I lost every penny.

I ended up working at a factory for a year after that. I gave me just enough money to buy a few used ATV's and start my new business, Backbone Adventures. I called it Backbone because at the time, I lived near the Devil's Backbone between Loveland and Estes Park.

Times were tough then. Me, my wife, and my daughter lived in our garage, converted into a 1 room apartment of sorts. My sister and her family moved into the house because they lost theirs in the collapse, and my parents moved into the back of the house because they too lost theirs in the collapse. Had we not come together, we all would have been homeless. To make matters worse, I broke my back in a dirt bike accident.

My first season in business proved to be difficult. I had a competitor who didn't care for the competition and things got a little ugly. It stayed that way for a year or so and eventually got easier. "Finally", I said to myself at the beginning of 2012, "things are looking up and I'm getting by."

However, 2012 brought us the worst forest fires in Colorado's history. As luck would have it, the biggest fire was right in my back yard, where I was operating my business. That ended up shutting me down for a portion of the year and seriously limiting income. Two weeks before the fire though, the worst accident / injury happened. It is something I'll never forget and will never get over.

Here's the story: A father in his early 40's brought his 12 year old son Joey, 16 year old daughter, and girlfriend to the trail for a ride. The father and Joey were to ride dirt bikes. The daughter and girlfriend were to ride an ATV together. Before we even started, Joey went over and sat on the little 70cc dirt bike his father rented for him. I watched him close and noticed right away he'd never been on a dirt bike before. The father told me he had ridden a few times. I knew it was a lie now.

So, I asked Joey, "Do you know where the brakes are?"

"No", he quickly replied.

"Have you ever been on a dirt bike?"

"No", he replied again.

The entire time I'm talking with Joey, his father was 30 feet away trying to duct tape his go pro camera to the bigger dirt bike he rented from me. I yelled over at the father and said, "Hey, you told me he had experience. He's never even been on a bike man."

"Awe, he'll be alright, don't worry about it." he yelled as he continued fiddling with the camera.

A few minutes later, after he was done messing around with his shit, I was finally able to talk to the group and go over safety and rules. I swear, every time I mentioned a rule or something to be cautious about, his family would look at me like they were scared out of their minds. Each time, immediately, the father would say, "Forget this guy. Don't worry about it, I know what I'm doing, just follow my lead."

Keep in mind, I can tell right off the bat, this dumb sum bitch had NO intention of sticking with Joey or the girls. He was hell bent on tearing shit up and leaving them high and dry.

After about 5 minutes of this crap, I popped my top and told him to shut the hell up. I then asked the girls how they felt about riding. Neither would answer me. They just look at me nervously and worried they would disappoint the father. I could tell right away this was a very unstable situation. So, told them I couldn't in good conscience allow them to ride. I could tell the girls were really relieved. Of course the father was upset and argued with me about it. I held my ground and asked him to leave. He then stomped away and I went on the next couple waiting in line for me.

2 or 3 minutes into going over rules and safety with the couple, I heard a frantic and loud, "Go, Go, Go!" from behind. I turned to see little Joey sitting on that dirt bike and paddling with his legs to get it moving down the hill, (not running) while the father was trying to figure out how to start the big dirt bike. Within seconds, we all realized Joey was heading down the extremely steep driveway going from 0-40 in nothing flat. It all happened so fast. Next thing we hear is a loud crash at the bottom and we see Joey's body flipping through the air. It was one of those crashes that you inherently knew would be devastating.

The couple I was talking with were first to the bottom, followed by me 10 feet behind, and the father behind me by 2 or 3 minutes. Not sure what he was doing up top. Turns out the couple were a cop and an emergency room nurse. I'm not gonna talk too much about what I saw. I'll just tell you it's a vision that will never leave my mind. Joey was clothes lined by a steel cable at the neck doing around 40MPH and it flung him through the air and into a tree.

At one point, when the father was at Joey's side, I shit you not, this is what that piece of shit said to him, "Shake it off Joey, we have to ride." He said this while trying to stand him up. Immediately the cop knocked the father off Joey and screamed at him. The cop and the nurse then continued to work with Joey. Meanwhile, I was on the phone with 911. Seconds later I was ripping down the mountain to meet the ambulance at the bottom so I could guide him up the 6 mile mountain road.

I was down and back up with the ambulance hot on my tail in less than 30 minutes. As soon as EMS got to Joey, he stopped breathing. He was given CPR and was revived. 15 minutes later, a helicopter was landing in a meadow 2 miles up the mountain. Once they got him in the helicopter, he stopped breathing again. He was revived after another round of CPR or paddles, I'm not sure which. I heard both, but it was a very confusing time.

Joey was flown away to the Denver Children's hospital, where he spent the next few weeks. He ended up spending 6 months in the hospital between Denver and Florida.

Afterwards, I went back to base, refunded everyone's money and called it quits. I didn't have any intention of continuing this business. I never wanted to see shit like that again. I didn't sleep right for months. To this day, I think about Joey on a regular basis.

Of course the father sued me. It didn't work out though. There were dozens of people who witnessed what I did. They all heard me deny these people a ride. They all heard me tell them to get in their car and leave. They all heard the father yell at Joey to "Go".

Weeks later, and after I did decide to operate my business again, Joey's mother showed up out of nowhere. She told me how Joey was doing and wanted information because she was going to sue her ex-husband (the father). Evidently, this wasn't the first time he'd put their children in serious danger and pushed them to do things they weren't comfortable doing.

Turns out Joey had a broken back, broken neck, broken arm, internal damage, and head / brain trauma. From what I understand, he was paralyzed from the neck down and was on a feeding tube. I wanted to keep tabs on Joey and the mother agreed to keep me posted. All of us on scene that day wanted to stay in the loop. Even the nurse told me months later that this accident impacted her more than any other she had dealt with in her years in the ER.

However, after the mother sued the father, she set her sights on me. Here came round two of the law suits. She didn't stop with me though, she tried to sue my neighbors on two sides of me and the girlfriend. 6 months into the battle, she called me on my cell phone and asked if I would testify in court against her husband. Immediately I'm thinking, "what the hell is this lady thinking? She'll automatically lose the case against me if I'm allowed to testify." I agreed to do it. Namely because that father SHOULD pay for what he did. Two days later I testified via phone to a court room in Florida.

I'm not sure how it panned out for the mother against the father, but her attorney called mine the day after my testimony and closed the case.

Anyway, 1 month later the mountain caught fire and I was done for the year.

The next year, (2013) things were going pretty good. That was until September 13th when the great Colorado flood happened. It hit Storm Mountain (where I operated) really hard. It actually washed away all the trails and the access road to the mountain itself. Naturally, I was effectively out of business, again!

In late 2014 I was able to start back up. It didn't last but a few months before some new interpretations of the law were discovered and I was shut down by the Forest Service. So, I was out of business AGAIN.

It was early 2015 when I finally got the break I'd been looking for my whole life. The Boulder Ranger District (Forest Service) offered me an opportunity to apply for a permit to operate in a different forest area closer to Estes Park. It was touch and go for a few months, but eventually, I got the temp permit. Now the fight was on to prove myself.

Growing up in the mountains, it's all I ever wanted to do was work in the mountains with guests like the ones I experienced way back when I was a wrangler at age 19. Since, I have spent the last 5 years busting my ass and taking on as many responsibilities as I could in regards to cleaning, maintaining, and repairing the trail system I operate on. Thankfully, that work was noticed and the company's future looks bright and unbreakable.

Now COVID-19 has happened and thrown a monkey wrench into the whole mix. I believe we'll all get through it though. I know my company will. All the hard times and loses I've seen over the years, I learned one important lesson: Plan for the worst and live a humble life.

I want to say I'm close to the top of the mountain. Maybe not as high as the picture above shows me to be, but close. It's been one hell of a rocky road. However, if there is anything I've learned from mountain climbing on my dirt bike, it's always the last few hundred yards that bare the most obstacles. God, I pray COVID-19 is the last of them. I'm getting too old for this shit. I know, I'm preaching to the choir here. If you're close to my age, I'm sure you've had your struggles as well.

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