George Momany is one of those fit, lean, taut-muscled go-fast guys.
When George takes a “short” bike ride, it might cover 80 miles of pavement or four hours of mud, tree roots and single-track.
Hiking the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier requires nine days for most backpackers. George did it in four.
Normally by late November, the Spokane anesthesiologist would be among the first skiers out skate-skiing the groomed ski tracks at Mount Spokane. And if the big snowcat groomer wasn’t running, he’d likely be the volunteer on the snowmobile driving out to pack the trails.
He’s a get-things-done kind of guy.
But this winter, Momany has had to back off the throttle. Neck fractures will do that, even to a guy with cardiovascular capacity rivaling a locomotive.
While pedaling his bike to work just before sunrise on Nov. 17, passing cars forced him into a pile of leaves along Rockwood Boulevard. A stick flipped into his spokes and launched him headfirst onto the pavement.
“Once I was flat on the street there was nobody around,” he said with a laugh.
“I couldn’t breath. I mean I couldn’t breathe for the longest time. I was beginning to think about giving myself an emergency tracheotomy with my pocketknife.
“Then when I finally got a breath, it hurt even worse.”
He did what any normal go-fast guy would do: He got on his bike and continued pedaling to work, where his colleagues directed him to the emergency room.
The diagnosis, in layman’s terms: fractured vertebrae in the neck, compression fractures in the back and a couple of broken ribs for good measure.
“That made me feel a little better about hurting so bad,” he said.
He was confined to a reclining chair at home for a couple of weeks. He needed coaching on dealing with chronic pain. He’s been slowly healing, rehabbing in every possible way his neurologist will allow.
“The injuries were pretty miserable,” he said
But it’s the lack of activity that nearly killed him.
Go-fast guys would sooner take a header into the Grand Canyon than let their muscles go to flab.
“When I could start getting out of the house, I went up to Mount Spokane with my family because my daughters have been involved with the junior nordic team. It was tough to see everyone ski off, but there’s no way I could get on skis even to shuffle around. Too risky. One slip and – I don’t want to think about that.”
But he couldn’t help but think about ways to exercise and feel alive again.
“I still can’t swim, run or bike, although I can work out on a recumbent cycle in the gym,” he said. “I still can’t lift more than 10 pounds.”
It was this pitiful state of wellness that prompted Momany to look twice at the pair of snowshoes covered with dust in the garage.
“I’d only used them once or twice,” he said. “I really hated being on snowshoes when I came to a downhill. All I could think about is now much faster I’d be going if I were on skis.”
His attitude has changed.
At first it was because the slow, sure-footing he found on snowshoes was the only way he could venture out from the Selkirk Lodge while his family was skiing.
Now he’s finding the pace of snowshoeing is surprisingly in-step with the season.
“Every advance I’ve made since the accident has been in baby steps,” he said. “That’s the way I started with snowshoeing,” he added, recalling his first cautious venture across the icy parking lot at the ski area before he could get to the snowy trails.
The aluminum claws on the bottom of modern snowshoe bindings gave him solid traction up and down the hills.
“On skis there’s always a chance of falling,” he said. “On snowshoes, you can keep everything in check.”
He said he was tentative on Dec. 26, when he and his wife, Karen, attempted to snowshoe to the top of Mount Spokane.
“We got halfway up and there was a deafening clap of thunder and lightning,” he recalled. “I’ve never seen anything like that during winter. I thought, ‘What on earth does God have in store for me now?’ ”
Although they aborted the trek, Momany had sensed the possibilities.
“I felt very confident on the snowshoes,” he said. “They were the right size, so I didn’t have to change my stride. Going out on them came quite naturally. There’s no fancy balancing or learning curve to overcome.”
He said he can see why snowshoeing appeals to such a wide range of people and abilities.
He’s been out on his snowshoes almost every weekend since those first baby steps. Last weekend – looking like any other fit snowshoer except for the neck brace he still has to wear – he trekked to the top of Mount Spokane as though it were a flat walk to the end of the block.
At the summit, a physician coming off the ski area chairlift recognized him and skied over with a big grin on his face.
It was a physician who’d counseled him for chronic pain.
“This is a good sign, seeing you up here,” the doctor said.
On the way down, Momany acknowledged that he’s looking forward to the day he can get back on skis and go fast again.
But he said snowshoes have left indelible tracks through his winter recreation repertoire.
“They’re the all-wheel-drive of human-powered winter transportation,” he said. “It’s something I can do right outside of town or in the backcountry when conditions aren’t good for skiing.
“I’m thinking a few more pairs of snowshoes are going to find their way into our house, and they’re not going to be dusty during winter.”