Planning a Soberish Fun Day
I meant to start this post Sunday, but my body has literally prevented me.
I believe I’ve posted before how I try and have “sober fun weekends” every once in a while, to convince myself there is no problem. I try and find some sort of activity (preferably outdoors) which my friends and I can partake in on Saturday afternoons to prevent our drink time from starting before noon, which happened more than I’d like to admit during my undergrad years.
My friends and I were initially planning a day trip to Havre De Grace Maryland for some Chesapeake Bay kayaking. I’ve wanted to head down since discovering the town during an internet search last fall. Unfortunately, PA’s bipolar weather shut down. A look at the forecast called for rain and a high of 53. As an avid cross country skier, and someone born and bred in NEPA, I’m an advocate for outdoor activity in any weather, and would have gladly thrown on a wool sweater, boots, and some jeans, and turned the kayaking trip into a JCrew ad, but my friend wisely decided he’d rather go when we could wear bathing suits and take a dip. Especially he added, when there was indoor fun to be had. His suggestion: visit the Philadelphia Rock Gym, that he’d frequented several times. What’s more he let us know, is that there was a Fun Center in the same plaza he’d been wanting to try that had go carts and mini golf.
We were facebook chatting about Saturday’s itinerary, so I did some research to see what other kinds of things we could do in close proximity to the rock gym’s Valley Forge locale. I found an outdoor mini golf course (I’m anti indoors mini golf, they’re never as good) located in Phoenixville, relatively close to where we were planning to be.
A quick bar search got me excited for Saturday. Phoenixville had its own microbrewery (Sly Fox Brewing Company) and what appeared to be a promising stretch of taverns which would provide a crawl from the rock gym to mini-golf (which is how sober fun day became sober-ish).
Philadelphia Rock Gym:
My friends (who both reside in Manayunk) had taken the Amtrak out to Lancaster the prior night. The plan was for me to drive to our Saturday fun day and deposit them back in Manayunk in time for a friend’s birthday celebration that night. We woke up around 10, had some breakfast and were on the road by 10:30.
For those of you unfamiliar with the sport of indoor rock climbing (such as myself up until last weekend), the gym is split up into two sections, which operate in two different ways, for two different prices.
There’s the traditional rock climbing; a high wall with holds and footrests, where you’re strapped into a harness and belayed by a partner on the ground to ensure your safety. This is what I pictured doing when I agreed to this endeavor Thursday night. My friend explained that we’d actually be “bouldering” which doesn’t require any training, isn’t as high, is cheaper and more interactive for a group of people.
The bouldering wall is about twenty feet high at the highest point; easy enough for you to scramble up and fall onto the mats below without injury (although they do teach you the best way to do it). We got a day-pass and climbing shoe rentals for $23.00.
On my first go I climbed quickly to the top, very impressed with myself that I was able to do so with such ease. After a semi embarrassing dismount I got up to see my friend laughing and two very somber and what I imagined to be serious rock climbers judging me. My friend explained that bouldering is more than just climbing the wall. There’s strategy involved. It’s taking a preordained path from the bottom to the top. Colored markers indicate where a route begins, the level of difficulty, and the route to go. It’s challenging. I didn’t make it past a level three route.
Since humility is one of my strongest attributes, I’ll let you know, I was impressed with myself. I got the hang of it pretty quick and traversed a number of different routes. I was even able to start climbing down in a strategic manner rather than just jumping (although that’s half the fun).
I fancy myself in pretty good shape, but after an hour my arms literally stopped functioning. Muscles you don’t even realize you have flare up and I was gripping the holds so hard that even when sitting and taking a break my hands resembled claws.
Part of the fun was that in between runs you were able to sit and socialize with your friends, and watch the other climbers. They were impressive. There was a guy near us that fascinated me. He was upwards of fifty and I hate that I’m writing something so cliché, but literally looked like a monkey on the wall. I’m not going to even continue this description as I don’t think my writing could do it justice, but this guy was impressive and had more strength in two fingers that I could probably muster in my entire arm.
“European Style” Pro-Carts
Arnolds Family Fun Center is in the same plaza as the Rock Gym and was our next destination. Now, I’m all down for “fun centers” (Lahey Fun Park in Scranton rules) as long as they don’t make me feel like a pedophile. Arnold’s made me feel vaguely creepy.
The whole place is an indoor/blacklight affair with lots of carnival noises, birthday balloons, and not too many adults without children attached, except at the go cart track. Excuse me, pro-cart track.
What differentiates pro-carts from go-carts is that they have no power steering. They aren’t kidding; getting these things to turn was hard work and turning too fast on a curve meant a spin out. I liked it much better than the uber controlled experience you normally get when go-carting.
It cost me $15.00 and wasn’t a bad way to kill a half hour.
Taking the Sober Fun out of Sober Fun Day
Our initial plan was to bar crawl through Phoenixville to the mini golf course and end the day with dinner and beer tasting at the Sly Fox Brewery (which is located conveniently, a few blocks away from the mini-golf course). As seems the general tradition with my friends, we made it to neither, spending more time than anticipated at several of the locales along the way, and by the time we were ready to mini-golf, we had to head back to Manayunk.
I was impressed with Phoenixville. It’s a cool small town, which maybe because of my recent trip there, reminded me of Lowell Mass: many signs of a former industrial boom, cobblestone roads, and a revitalized and lively main street. Now, I’m sure there’re people familiar with this are reading this and thinking I’m nuts, but this was my impression.
I’d definitely go back for a main street bar/restaurant crawl. I’d particularly enjoy stopping in a BYOB Cajun restaurant we passed that smelled like it’d wreak absolute havoc on your digestive system. Here’s where our travels took us:
Fitzwater Station- 264 Canal St., Phoenixville, PA
I covered the Fitzwater Station in my last post about finding things to do when the heat spikes, but got a chance to visit it on Saturday. This was our first stop after rock climbing. One of the funnier aspects is that the bar sits in the middle of neighborhood, and not on the corner of some city block, but rather in a small, almost rural suburbia type area.
A highlight here is that you can rent canoes and kayaks from the bar for “about $22.00.” They’ll give you a map and you can traverse both the canal and Schuylkill River. The bar’s old but was laid back and has a nice deck for good weather.
The Pickering Creek Inn- 37 Bridge St., Phoenixville, PA
I really liked the Pickering Creek Inn and would’ve liked to stay there longer had we not been on a one beer and go schedule in order to see all the town had to offer.
We arrived right at 4:00, right as the bar opened. The inside was restored/historical old, not shitty old and they had a great selection of local microbrews. The bartender made fun of me for getting a Coors Lights, but in a good natured, not snotty hipster way. The crowd coming in as we left seemed fun, and a few were lamenting the hurting the bartender had put on them that Friday.
Molly Maguires- 195 Bridge St., Phoenixville, PA
My impression of Molly Maguires was a generic Irish pub. It wasn’t too busy when we visited, but I was checking out the screen saver on a computer behind the bar that proved it could get hopping.
The Columbia Bar & Grill-148 Bridge St., Phoenixville, PA
I’d stop there again if I was on a bar crawl, but we all decided this place was too fancy for us.
There was also an Iron Hill Brewery and another Irish pub called PJ Ryan’s that we didn’t get to check out.
Post Fun-Day Fun
Saturday night isn’t really worth mentioning. We went for dinner at the Ugly Moose in Manayunk mainly because it’s in my friend’s backyard and then went back to her house to pregame, which lead to more pregaming, which lead to more pregaming, which lead to my buddy and I not leaving their house until after midnight and hurrying downtown to meet a HS friend I was texting and supposed to meet an hour earlier.
I woke up the next day, feeling surprisingly well and departed Manayunk early, a little bitter that the weather would have been perfect for my kayaking expedition had it occurred a day earlier. With watersports in my head, I decided to stop at March Creek State Park for an hour of solo paddle boarding. What rock climbing did to my arms, and shoulders, the paddle boarding did to my core, which is why I still feel crippled as I write this.