Most days, no one would recognize Phil Meglasson among the hundreds of mountain bikers at Phil's Trailhead.
But Meglasson, 77, happened to be posing for a photo next to the "Phil's Trail" sign recently, and two riders approached him.
"Are you Phil? THE Phil?" one of the fellows asked.
"Yeah, that's me," he replied sheepishly.
The two mountain bikers posed, grinning, for a photo with Meglasson, and then were on their way up the trail.
"We met Phil!" one of them yelled as they rode away.
Asked later about the encounter, the soft-spoken Meglasson said, "I think it's kind of weird."
Being the namesake of one of the most popular trail systems in the West is certainly impressive, but over the years Meglasson has never sought notoriety for it.
Meglasson worked for the U.S. Geological Survey creating topographical maps, and he moved to Bend, Ore., in 1977. Riding a mountain bike – a fledgling form of cycling back then – was a more efficient way to do his job.
In the late 1970s and early '80s, Meglasson and several other early Central Oregon mountain bikers began riding logging roads in the area. They eventually found deer trails and formed them into singletrack trails (the narrow type of paths that many mountain bikers prefer).
The labors of these mountain biking pioneers would lead to Central Oregon becoming a hotbed for the sport. Today, volunteers with the Central Oregon Trail Alliance spend thousands of hours building and maintaining trails that are popular among both locals and out-of-towners. Phil's Trail is now just one trail in the vast Phil's Trail Network west of Bend, Ore.
In the early 1980s, Meglasson and his friends Bob Woodward, Dennis Heater and others had no designs of spawning a mountain biking mecca – they just wanted to ride their bikes off road.
"We started riding out in this area on dirt roads," Meglasson said at the trailhead last week. "We spotted a deer trail up here, which eventually became Phil's Trail. We just followed it through. You didn't use any tools in those days, you just rode, and rode the trail in that way."
As Meglasson and his friends started using tools and building and developing trails, their efforts led to the formation of the Central Oregon Trail Alliance in 1992. Since then, COTA volunteers have worked closely with the U.S. Forest Service in building and maintaining area trails. The Phil's Trail System is now nationally known because of its wide assortment of singletrack trails.
Meglasson said he rides his mountain bike about every other day and logs some 100 to 150 hours of trail work every year. He maintains the Mrazek Trail, just north of the Phil's network, and other trails east of Bend near Horse Ridge.
While there were very few mountain bikers in the forest near Bend in the early 1980s, now hundreds of mountain bikers come to Phil's Trailhead each day from spring to well into fall, at some times leading to overcrowding and overuse issues.
Woodward, 78, who has lived in Bend for 40 years, recalled that it was 1982 when he discovered the deer trail that would become Phil's Trail.
"It was a sense of adventure," Woodward said. "Every day we would try new places. I was out one day riding a doubletrack road (forest road) and I saw a deer trail up a canyon. We got Phil and some other guys, and we rode this deer trail and started to clean it up, and somebody added some singletrack. We made things patchwork: go out and discover something and see where it led.
"After I found that deer trail, Phil started to clean it up so we just started calling it Phil's. He was doing so much work on it, and when the trails expanded, it just became lodged in the local lore."
Meglasson had worked on fire suppression crews for the Forest Service, so he had experience in trail building and felt comfortable taking the lead.
Meglasson still rides his bike frequently, but Phil does not come to Phil's much. He prefers riding east of Bend, where the mountain biking is more primitive and the riders are few and far between – similar to the early 1980s west of Bend.
"This is the first time I've been out here in months," Meglasson said at Phil's Trailhead last week. "I never come here because it's so crowded. There's just a huge amount more use. And as the bikes got better the trails get eroded and really rough and rocky. And then there's places where the trails are 10 feet wide where everyone's trying to get around the rocks."
Certain areas east of Bend, Meglasson said, he can still have to himself.
"You can easily do a ride out there and never see another person," he said.
Sure, they have a few complaints like many longtime locals, but for the most part Meglasson and Woodward view the growth of Central Oregon – and subsequently the growth of mountain biking in the region – as inevitable.
"It's just like Bend growing: Traffic gets worse, and that's part of it," Meglasson said. "The good thing about mountain biking is you can find a place where there aren't any people."
Meglasson has been retired from the Forest Service for more than 20 years and lives with his wife, Julia Meglasson, in northeast Bend. Aside from mountain biking and trail work, he enjoys restoring cars with his son, who lives in Bend. He also has a daughter and granddaughter.
Like Meglasson, Woodward looks back at the early days of mountain biking in Central Oregon with fond memories, but does not lament how the scene has changed.
"The camaraderie was primary in those early days," Woodward said. "We would get together and go exploring, look around and gauge where the next trail would be. It was just a constant joy to be out there. (More crowds) is the natural progression in sports I think. They become more popular and they expand out. As long as people are confined to certain trailheads, that leaves plenty left over to go somewhere else and not see anybody. As long as we have that, I'm OK with it."
Like Meglasson, Woodward likes to mountain bike alone. He spends many days in Skyline Forest, a remote area northwest of Bend crisscrossed with singletrack that has not been developed as an official trail network.
While Woodward was an integral part of pioneering Central Oregon singletrack, he prefers to defer the credit of Phil's Trail to, well, Phil.
"He never takes credit, but I give him all the credit still," Woodward said of Meglasson. "He's been fantastic. He's easygoing. A lot of people don't know that he can be a hell of a lot of fun to be around because he's kind of stoic.
"But he's just a pillar of the community."
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