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Buzz pauses on the trail to the zoo.

Buzz pauses on the trail to the zoo.

Sometime after my second heart attack I decided to sell my beloved red bike and buy Buzz, the bike I ride today. Unlike my red bike, Buzz is electric. He monitors the effort that I put into pedaling and, when he decides I’m working too hard, offers to help out. Riding Buzz is like being twelve years old again.

City dwellers that we are (and owning no car), our electric bikes are our primary transportation around town. We ride them almost every day, sometimes more than once. They’re remarkably practical and every time we ride them we get to say we got some exercise.

The twisty trail to the zoo.

The twisty trail to the zoo. (Google Maps)

About four times a week I ride Buzz to the Oregon Zoo. I don’t go there to see the orangutans. Sometimes I don’t even stop. I go there for the exercise. The zoo, you see, is on top of the Sylvan Highlands, 837 feet higher than our apartment. The road I ride to get there—a trail, really; a third of it is closed to cars—is four miles long, densely forested, and twisty as a sheep’s intestine.

Buzz has multiple assist settings, from mild-mannered to superhero. He weighs a portly 55 pounds, but with assist set to mild, he’s much like riding a light competition bike—perfect for riding up zoo trails. I strap on my heart monitor and start pedaling, using the gears to hold my heart rate in the 85th percentile. The uphill ride takes about thirty minutes. Fresh air. A quiet forest. A vigorous bike ride. It’s a perfect cardiovascular workout.

Quiet and heavy as Gibraltar, Peggy is a calming influence.

Quiet and massive as Gibraltar, Peggy is a calming influence.

When I get to the top I usually stop to pay a visit to Peggy, a 1909 Lima-Shay locomotive that’s on display in the zoo’s parking lot. Shays were built to haul logs out of Northwest forests. They were slow, but they could climb the sides of buildings if only someone would lay the tracks. I sit with Peggy for ten minutes or so, rehydrating and waiting for my heart to calm down.

And then… And then it’s back down the hill! Eight hundred and thirty-seven feet of twisty trails, all downhill (some steeply so), and many of them car-free. Zoom! Buzz and I are a flash in the forest. A blur in the brush. A streak in the shrubbery. I reach the bottom of the hill and five minutes later my goofy grin catches up with me.

Soon the rains will return to Oregon. They always do. And when they do I’ll return to the gym for my workout. I don’t anticipate that inevitability, but when it happens I’ll mollify the monotony of the treadmill by recalling the memory of Peggy and Buzz, the scent of the forest, and the gratifying reward of that downhill dash.

May the wind always be at your back.

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