Interview: Tyson Swasey and the Rise of Ahab

Dec 20, 2014
by Robert Rebholz  
Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

Trailforks.com

In the classic novel Moby-Dick, writer Herman Melville painted the main character Captain Ahab an obsessed, monomaniacal man in pursuit of one and only one goal. His mind burned with an ungodly desire to complete his fanatical mission. In the mountain bike world, that sounds a lot like a trail builder.

If you’ve read Melville’s masterpiece, you’ll recall that Ahab had his leg chomped off by a massive white whale, Moby Dick. After the accident, Captain Ahab hobbled around the earth using a carved whalebone prosthesis and his sole purpose was to exact revenge on the giant cetacean. When Ahab finally met Moby Dick face to face again he lost his cool, charged the beast and was dragged by the whale to a watery grave.

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

Trail builder, Tyson Swasey is about as chilled out as they come, but get him talking about the Captain Ahab trail in the Amasa Back zone in Moab and the fire in his eyes comes alive. As he describes the arduous building process of moving mountains of rocks with grip hoists, hydraulic lifts and his own bare hands, it becomes evident that the trail is his white whale.

Tyson grew up in Moab and has been trail riding since the ripe old age of 12. He knows every hot line in Grand County and his recent viral video ‘Beat Down’ broke the Internet before Kim Kardashian’s badonkadonk did. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out here.


I had a chance to shred with Tyson on Captain Ahab during a recent trip to Moab. We were both on well-appointed Ibis Ripleys and in between laps of lower Ahab, we had a chance to chat on the mellow climbs of another trail Tyson had a hand in, Hymasa.

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

How did you get involved with trail building?
The trail stewardship group in Grand County is called Trail Mix. They work with the local Bureau of Land Management on the building of all non-motorized trails including those used for hiking, equestrian and mountain biking. I began volunteering with Trail Mix in 2007 on the building of the trail Pipedream. I had just started working at Poison Spider Bicycles and they have an awesome program that reimburses shop employees for doing trail work.

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

I really enjoy working with rocks, so Scott Escott, the trail's coordinator for Trail Mix, called me every time they were doing a big rock-building day. During the construction of Pipedream, I was pretty amazed by what could be moved with a grip hoist. The hands on experience I gained working on Pipedream gave me the confidence to take on a project like Ahab.

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

Where did the idea for Captain Ahab come from?
I was at the local breakfast spot, the Love Muffin, with my buddy Nick Badovinac. He told me that there was a shelf on Amasa Back that he thought might go all the way through to the top and had the potential to be a great trail. I said, ‘Let’s go right now!’ We went out and did some scouting and we found the shelf that is now lower Ahab did in fact go through and could be connected to the top of Amasa Back. We hiked the whole trail and pointed out rocks that needed to be moved or sweet potential lines.

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

We immediately went to Trail Mix and asked them if the area would be possible to develop into a trail and they were on-board with our plan. We took about a dozen trips out to the zone and looked around the entire mesa to figure out how the trail would work. It quickly became apparent that it would be a one-way trail because the bottom section was so narrow and steep. The proposal we put together with Trail Mix for Captain Ahab was for an advanced expert level trail with the bottom being one-way. No one had ever proposed a trail like that to the BLM, but because of the great relationship Trail Mix has with them, they agreed.

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

Why was it important for the bottom to be one-way?
For the safety of everyone, it is best for the bottom to be a one-way trail. It’s very narrow and steep as you near the bottom. You can really gain a lot of speed and the blind corners make it dangerous if someone was riding up while you were pinning it down. It’s nice to have an alternative downhill on Amasa Back that is for non-motorized vehicles only. It is a very popular Jeep area and sometimes a Jeep will be stalled in the middle of the road on a blind corner. The BLM has a resource management plan that calls for hundreds of miles of non-motorized singletrack to be developed in Moab.

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

How was the building process?
We started at the bottom and worked to the top because the bottom of the shelf had the most debris and would be the most work intensive. As we began construction, we realized how unique it was being on a narrow shelf below the Jeep road. Folks riding by on Amasa Back would say how crazy it was to put a trail there! It took two and a half months to build the trail. We scouted Ahab first without a plan for the climb. As we were building the trail we were hiking and riding there constantly, usually three to four days a week. I began mentally cataloguing all the areas that mountain bikes went around Jeep tracks to reach less technical lines.

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

After Ahab opened and we saw how successful it was, I knew we had to create a great singletrack climbing trail. The idea behind the Hymasa Trail was to take all of the areas impacted by folks going off-line and somehow connect them. Hymasa achieved the goal of a non-motorized climbing trail to get people off the Jeep road all together.

How has the response been to Captain Ahab?
It has been overwhelmingly positive. When we finished the trail, we posted a time-lapse video of the construction of Ahab on-line. Folks began stopping by Poison Spider while I was working to say how rad the video was and to get information about the trail.

If you hang out at the bottom of Ahab on any busy day, you will see what a cool scene it has become. People just lounge around and the vibe is great. Seeing how happy and stoked everyone is about the trail is the most rewarding part of the project for me. I had high hopes for the trail, but I definitely didn’t expect the kind of success it has had.

What was the biggest challenge?
If you watch the time-lapse video there is one huge rock that the grip hoist wouldn’t move. We ended up using a hydraulic jack to lift it just enough so that it was wide enough to ride through. That rock had to weigh six tons!

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

What is special about building trails in Moab?
It’s a unique place for trail building because of the various terrain. The aspect of trail building that appeals to me the most is the rock building and alignment. If you build rock features right, they hold up really well. Perhaps the best part of building in Moab is the support from the trail steward organization Trail Mix and the Bureau of Land Management. Trail Mix does an amazing job of turning great ideas for trails into reality. We had a kernel of an idea for a trail and Trail Mix brought it to fruition.

Ahab took a lot of work by a lot of different people, including Sandy Freethey and Scott Escott of Trail Mix. They hiked the trail many times and wrote the proposal to the BLM. I'm grateful to them as well as the BLM for doing countless hours of environmental assessment on the area. Moab locals came out in droves to help build the trail as well.

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

Some of the lines you hit on Ahab are pretty amazing. In general do you see them before or after you build the trail?
When we are designing the trail I’m seeing most of the lines. If we scout a cool natural feature, we make sure to link it into the trail. As we built the trail, we saw that if you put a rock in a certain spot it's possible to jump an entire section.

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

One cool thing that happened while building Ahab was that because we spent so much time building it, we knew every line perfectly the first time we rode it. We hit everything flat out on the maiden voyage because we knew every inch of the trail.

Any tips for folks looking to build their own trail?
The first thing you should do once you find an area is to go to the local land agency or to a mountain bike organization that has a good relationship with land management. They can let you know what limitations are on the land that you are looking at. People will spend a lot of time scouting an area then get shut down because it is a protected area due to an endangered plant or animal species.

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

It’s important to know if the land you are interested in building on is managed by a county, state or federal organization. Illegally building on land can get you shut down immediately. Folks with their own agenda can cause a lot of harm to the relationship of established mountain bike groups and land managers. Cooperation is key, because it takes everyone to make a trail come to fruition. There is a lot more to building trails than just putting it on the ground. I would encourage anyone interested in trail building to volunteer with their local trail building organization and put some work into their local trails. Trails never get built by one person and without volunteers trails don't get built. Even if you don't volunteer, consider giving a donation to support the trails you ride. It costs upwards of $2 per foot to build new trail and that adds up very quickly.

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

What’s the latest project that you’ve been working on?
I’ve been working on an expert level trail in the Gemini Bridges area of Moab called the Gold Bar Rim Singletrack. We have it signed and it is ready to go. We didn’t change too much of the original trail and worked hard to keep the spirit intact. The Gold Bar Rim Singletrack is the most technical stretch of singletrack in Moab. It has mandatory drops along with some very tight spots next to big cliff exposures. In one spot, the original trail was 20 inches wide with a cliff on the left and massive rocks on the right. We were able to move some of the rocks around to make it a bit different. What’s cool about this section of trail is that it gives folks riding Magnificent 7 an option other than riding the Gemini Bridges' Jeep road back to the highway. Gold Bar allows you to do an epic ride connecting the Gemini Bridges area to the Portal Trail. It’s really special to contribute to the next epic ride in Moab. The response we’ve been getting is great!

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

Conclusion: After spending time riding with Tyson on Captain Ahab, it was easy to see his passion for trail building. His enthusiasm beamed through as he described the construction of the massive rock moves that make the trail so special. Tyson was stoked to talk to every group that we saw on the trail. He couldn't hide his excitement when rider after rider told him how much fun they were having on the trail that he and so many others put a ton of blood, sweat and tears into.

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

Thanks to Tyson and trail builders everywhere for putting in the hard work for our enjoyment. Big thanks to Trail Mix for supporting such an awesome project. Thanks to Billy Snyder and T.J. Cowern for helping to get our bikes dialled on this trip.

Unfortunately, the day after this ride I broke my left clavicle riding in Park City, Utah. Thanks to Dan Hennessey and Ryan Skowron for helping me out when I was down.

Tyson Swansey and The Rise of Ahab

I’d also like to thank all of the folks that keep me rolling, season after season; Hans Heim, Scot Nichol and Jeff Kendall-Weed at Ibis, Scott Boyd at the Hayes Group, Mark Jordan at Fox, David Parrett at Thomson, Joel Richardson at FSA, Elayna Caldwell at SRAM, Jeff Wilbur at Cateye, Ronan at Moove Components, Noah Sears at MRP, Josh Parris at Specialized, Shane Edel and Jeremiah Stich at Bert’s Bikes and Fitness in Tonawanda, NY.

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Mentions: @SramMedia @ibiscycles @foxracingshox @Specialized @EASTONcycling



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49 Comments

  • 16 0
 "The BLM has a resource management plan that calls for hundreds of miles of non-motorized singletrack to be developed in Moab."

Holy crap. Shangri-la DOES exist! That one sentence is a) enormous amounts of sweet b) condenses so much work that has been done in the area by MTB builders and advocates over years. Thank you. I may never ride there, but, thank you, thank you.
  • 6 1
 I rode that trail this summer and really enjoyed it. It wasn't as technically difficult as the double black grading suggests but its great fun. Strangely, the technical climbing on this trail is almost enjoyable as the descending.
  • 3 0
 Is the a standard rating system for MTB trails? Something like the climbing system but not as involved? Ive seen this trail rated as a black diamond elsewhere which is more appropriate. Strong intermediates should give it a try as it's usually just a very short walkable move here and there they might get stumped on. Don't let the double black listed here keep you away.
  • 2 0
 Agreed, I would even go so far as to rate it Blue-Black relative to other trails in Moab. Pay attention to some fun side hits/features along the way.

Unfortunately no standard rating system. Even find discrepancies between trails in the same areas. Good example is the trails used in Whistler for the EWS Enduro this year. Some of the first stages got double black ratings while the 4th stage (Ride Don't Slide) gets a single black rating while easily being the most difficult and technical stage of the day, IMO at least.
  • 1 0
 Sounds amazing. I've ridden lots of nice "down" trails, but it takes a special magic to make people forget (almost) when they're riding up. This is on my to-do list for next vacation.
  • 6 4
 Fun story about this trail. This past summer my buddies and I took a vacation here to ride for the first time ever. This was our first trail we hit up. Well once we got to the trail head I had a major stomach ache and wound having to shit a ways off the trail. I didn't have toilet paper so safe bush was my only option...never had I had such a scenic shit though.
  • 3 0
 Sage*
  • 3 0
 Juniper bark, crushed and rolled between your hands until it becomes as soft as pillow fluff, then add water. Better than toilet paper and more environmentally friendly. Sage is nice and smells good, but it leaves a lot behind. Scenic dumps are the name of the game in wilderness therapy.
  • 2 0
 I might try that just to try it. Haha thanks!
  • 2 0
 Dear Santa Claus, we would like the same area in France to build such beautiful trails... and "buvette à volonté" every 10km (just the for the french touch) !
Then, the first trail could be named "Captain Nemo" in harmony with the one of our american cousins
  • 1 0
 Awesome work sir! We did a riding trip out to Moab this year, and really enjoyed Hymasa/Cap'n Ahab. I'm also excited about your work on Gold bar, the only disappointment in riding Mag7 was the jeep road out at the end, after riding some amazing singletrack for so long.
  • 1 1
 Moby Dick Face?
What kinda books you readin on here?!
  • 1 0
 Hymasa/Ahab and the 'new' Amasa Back area is fantastic! Kudos to the trailcrews in the Moab area for working with the BLM, etc to keep expanding in the Moab area. Was just there this weekend for 2016/17 product testing and it's riding great!
  • 1 0
 Tyson motherfin' Swasey! Awesome to see how far you've come in life man! Btw this is your old shop bud Justin from Rim back in the day. Just had to say whats up after reading this awesome article. I figured you were still a rock star in moab. Keep up the good work!
  • 2 0
 Tyson Swansey lives the life I could only achieve through a genie or time machine. If I knew 23 years ago what I know now....
  • 1 1
 I always wondered why it was called Captain Ahab, being that Moab is nowhere near the sea. But after reading it makes total sense and I can defo relate to building obsession. Great article, great video. Love the last joke haha.
  • 6 0
 I believe the name was also inspired by a rock formation near the trail that looks like a whale. i280.photobucket.com/albums/kk179/ride_today/P1080863.jpg
  • 3 0
 There is a large rock landmark on the top of the mesa called Whale Rock. I think that has something to do with the name as well.
  • 1 0
 I can see why they call it that. Pretty cool.
  • 1 0
 I think this is my favorite trail in Moab. Porc singletrack might be more technical (read: better), but Ahab is just so damn fun!
  • 2 0
 Tyson is a great rider with wicked trail savvy. Looking forward to more to come from this young gun.
  • 3 0
 Good bikes.
  • 1 0
 Anybody now the make and model of that blue bike?
  • 2 0
 Ibis Ripley
  • 1 0
 The Ripley with 140 mm fork is the perfect setup for Moab riding.
  • 2 0
 @whistlerbound Tyson is on an Ibis Ripley. By the way, he just got a new Mojo HD3.
  • 1 0
 Thanks guys/ He mentioned Tonawanda N.Y. Thats quite a trip to get to Moab.
  • 4 2
 I wasn't expecting the boner.
  • 1 3
 A hard one
  • 4 1
 Boobs. (oYo)
  • 1 0
 01:21 - Awesome mtb bikes, slayer and tities what more could one ask for!
  • 1 0
 Finally good tunage on a video and even without the music it's still a big win. Keep making more dudes!
  • 1 0
 I had a blast riding this trail, it's cool to see the work that went into it. Thanks Guys!
  • 1 0
 Ahab was definitely the best trail I rode when I was in Moab. Great job on the trail and vids!
  • 2 0
 Title has his last name spelled wrong, no "n" Nice work Brownie!
  • 1 0
 Brown Tyson
  • 1 0
 You gotta be f*cking kidding me, I was expecting him to drop that yeti. It almost made me brake down in tears.
  • 2 0
 Best video in good while. Strong work to all involved!
  • 2 0
 Damn you guys sure know rockwork, impressive.
  • 1 0
 That last cliff drop..i though Holy Shiiiiiz! Didnt expect a parachute! Good vid!
  • 1 0
 Great video! Love that bike base jump, awesome. No Ferrari right now. Oh THAT was some funny stuff.
  • 1 0
 Any plans to resurrect Megladon?
  • 1 0
 that trail was illegally built on national, state, and private land......impossible to resurrect
  • 1 0
 Thanks Moabmerrick,
I've only heard of it from stories from some locals, I have no personal experience with the route. But I heard it was quite the trail (R.I.P.).

I applaud the BLM, Trail Mix, and whoever else puts in the time and sweat equity necessary to build all of the recent world class legal singlertrack in and around Moab.
  • 1 0
 More vids should have random (oYo) shots in them dont you agree??
  • 1 0
 rock on!!!!!
  • 1 1
 WoW!! It's over the Rampage!!!
  • 1 0
 Boobs

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