by Dan Savage
I stopped at the bottom of Captain Ahab wearing an ear to ear grin and surging with pleasure as loads of adrenalin pumped through my veins. In 30 years of mountain biking, Captain Ahab unquestionably featured some of the best flow and use of natural rock terrain I had ever experienced!
During Fernie off-season escapes to Moab, Amasa Back has become a favourite climb to ride Pothole Arch and drop the challenging technical plunges of Rock Stacker and fun exposure on Jackson's Trail. News of Captain Ahab being built at Amasa Back was welcomed as the potential to convert a two hour ride into a longer loop was appealing.
This May I was in Moab with Aaron McConnell from the TransRockies, the creator of mountain bike stage racing, to meet and ride with Scott Newton of Poison Spider Bikes, Moab's leading bike shop. We were planning Moab Rocks, a three stage all mountain race to be held on October 12 to 14, 2013.
Scott's extensive knowledge of Moab's trails and supporting stakeholders was proving to be critical. He selected stage routes including Moab's top three riding areas: Mag 7, Porcupine Rim, and Amasa Back. When I asked about Captain Ahab, Scott replied that there was no precident of racing the trail, exposure danger would be a concern, and special permission would have to be requested from various people. He suggested that we ride it first!
Aaron arrived seconds later at the bottom of Captain Ahab with an equally wide grin and I knew we would be requesting the inclusion of Captain Ahab on Moab Rocks Amasa Back stage!
Our request to use Captain Ahab started with the trail builder, Tyson Swasey—his permission was critical.
Tyson was the driving force behind Moab's most popular new ride. He is from Moab, an amazing rider, a mechanic at Poison Spyder, a digital wiz and an awesome trail builder. His digital talent includes having shot and edited all the videos in this feature.
When riding with Scott Newton he frequently stopped us to point out some of Tyson's repertor of seemly unbelievable freeride moves. One was a five foot high bolder that he apparently leaps onto at speed and launches off!
Scott Escott, Moab Trail Mix master trail builder, also commented on Tyson, "Most of us building trails in Moab were older so it was exciting to have someone as young as Tyson and his team lead on such a labor intensive project. I expected them to take a couple of years to complete and they nailed it in a few months!"
I caught up with Tyson at Poison Spider following riding Captian Ahab and here is the narrative:
Q: Tyson, would you be OK with our running Moab Rocks on Captain Ahab?
A: It would be sweet to have our new trail featured in an event. Absolutely!
Q: When did you generate the vision for Captain Ahab?
A: The vision for Captain Ahab came from having coffee with a good friend Nick Badovinac one cold winter day in 2012. We were talking about potential new trails and he mentioned a shelf on Amasa Back he wanted to look at. I said with much enthusiasm yes, lets go now. Winter in Moab can be pretty slow at times so the prospect of a potential new trail out there was something very exciting.
Q: Your motivations for building trail?
A: Being able to add my vision to the Mountain Bike world motivates me. Captain Ahab was Moab's first trail proposed as a expert level trail. So having the opportunity of building an advanced trail in an area that I knew and enjoyed all my life was a huge part of the motivation.
Q Influences on the outcome?
A: The terrain pretty much influenced how the trail came together. The terrain was almost begging for a trail to be built upon it. As we explored the area all we really had to do was follow the contour shelfs and they would connect to the next level right were they needed to. I have a MTB, BMX, and trials background so there is a little of everything influencing my build style.
Q: What were the challenges?
A: Rocks, lots and lots of rocks, boulders actually. One in particular was especially huge, and took a six ton bottle jack to move just enough so a rider can get through. Also at times to many options, picking one route over another brought out some good arguments between Nick and I.
Q: Did you question completing the trail at any time?
A: NO! But the closest we came to questioning completion was while trying to move the big ass rock mentioned before, we were completely defeated when our 1.5 ton grip hoist (hand winch) couldn't budge this rock, it was the crux because it had to move. Defeated we went home not happy. Next day we brought in the 6 ton bottle jack—it was slow, but we moved the rock! It was a most glorious day.
Q: Has the trail met expectations?
The trail has met and far exceeded expectations! All the rock work is holding up great, and nothing but positive things have been said about it. The support for the trail since completion has been huge! Never before have I seen the Amasa Back parking lot totally full (if you have never seen it its HUGE) with rows of cars in it. A big help in getting the word out was the Captain Ahab video on Vimeo. I cant count the number of people who said they watched the video and had to come ride it.
Q: Where did the most help come from?
A: The most help for the trail came from Nick Badovinac, Brian Lugers and Scott Escott with Trail Mix. Nick and I designed the 4.3 miles of trail over 10+ hikes all over the Amasa Back area. I dont think it would be much of an exaggeration to say we hiked over 1000 miles on Amasa Back. Brian was building trail with me everyday, he has endless energy, and is like 7 feet tall, so hes strong and a great trail builder. Scott Escott is the head trails coordinator for Trail Mix and knows all involved and knows how to make a new trail happen. Knowing him made it all a little easier.
Q: Is there anybody you would like to thank?
A: Nick Badovinac. It was Nicks idea to see if a trail could be built on the shelf that Ahab is on. Brian Lugers who was the co-builder and on site every build day with his endless energy and height. Scott Escott for all his support and mentoring on the project. And all the hard work with all the not so fun stuff involved with the trail approval process. The volunteers! No trail can be build without volunteers. Grand County Trail Mix, they make new trails in Moab a reality. The local BLM agency for supporting and approving new mountain bike trails.
Q: Where did the trail name come from?
A: We initially wanted to name the trail after the big rock features that reminded us of Moby Dick, however settled on the captain's name of the Pequod in Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick.
Q: Your favourite Moab trail?
A: Do you have a favorite child? Well yes I do...I did design Ahab in my personal style, fun corners, hidden jumps and drops. But really I enjoy pretty much all Moab has to offer for trails. XC to DH love it all.
Q: Where is mtn biking in Moab heading?
A: Mountain biking in Moab is heading in a very positive direction. Seven years ago Moab had eleven miles of singletrack, now it has over seventy miles and that number will continue to grow to 150 plus miles of mountain bike singletrack in just a few years. So yea the future is looking awesome!
Q: What's it like to work at Poison Spider?
A: I love it! Helping people make the most out of there vacation in Moab is very rewarding. As a mechanic its the best place to learn anything that can go wrong on a bike. We see everything break and we know how to fix it fast. So saving someones day by replacing their mangled derailleur, hanger, cable and housing, bent wheel, "Blown up" fork and get them back out on the trail that day or within a few hours, or even less, is a great feeling and always rewarding. Not to mention my boss is pretty awesome! ;)
Q: Your next project?
A: Amasa Back climb will hopefully be mostly single track with an alternate entrance down to the creek. Looking for the next trail zone.
Q: Favourite bike?
A: What ever bike I find between my legs.
Tyson's creation of Captain Ahab has transformed Amasa Back from Moab's least frequented riding area to rival traffic at Slick Rock or Porcupine Rim. His new plans for a new single track climb will create an even more interesting Amasa Back loop.
Moab Rocks request to feature Captain Ahab was granted by all parties. The season wrap up event will include the best in Moab riding, but also the best in Moab culture, with daily socials featuring beer from Moab Brewery at Swanney Park and a wrap up party at Bar M Chuckwagon. For more information visit: www.transrockies.com/moab-rocks/
Most recently Tyson was in Durango working on a trail project called Snake-charmer. It has some lower Ahab inspiration and can be seen in this video!
So when in Moab, be sure to ride Captain Ahab and drop by Poison Spider to complement Tyson and encourage him to continue building trails. Our riding future is in his hands!