My First Trip
I love to travel.
2020 has not been kind.
Our European vacation to Hungary, Slovakia, and Austria – canceled. The extended-family, once-in-a-lifetime cruise to Alaska – canceled. There are more, but you get where I’m going, and you didn’t come here to read about my sorrows.
Lori and I had been staring at the same four walls since March, and it was time for a much-needed escape. As we pulled out of the garage, I heard the distinctive voice of Morgan Freeman, and the last three minutes of The Shawshank Redemption ran through my head.
“I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at the start of a long journey, whose conclusion is uncertain.” – Red
Google Maps snapped me out of my daydream moment and directed me north to Ellicottville, New York.
Ellicottville is a small town that is home to the Holiday Valley ski resort, and the village was coined “The Aspen of the East” by a travel writer over 60 years ago. Things have changed dramatically since then, at least in Aspen, which has turned into a hotspot for the rich and famous.
Ellicottville has managed to keep its small-town charm, even driving fast-food restaurants to the edge of town, which leaves the downtown area picturesque. The local Tim Hortons is evidence that there is a steady flow of Canadians during non-pandemic times. Due to health insurance issues and border difficulties, our neighbors to the north were absent in large numbers.
During the summer, Ellicottville is quiet. During a pandemic in the middle of the week, it’s very quiet. But this is precisely what we had in mind.
We had several goals for our first trip of 2020 – travel by car, avoid crowds, hike extensively, and ride a mountain coaster. I know what you’re thinking – “What the heck is a mountain coaster?”
It did not disappoint. Lori was a skeptic, but after careening down the steep track, screaming along the way, she demanded another ride. Who was I to argue?
The exciting thing about a mountain coaster is that you have a brake, so you feel partly in control. If you’re concerned about your speed heading into a sharp turn, you can tap the brake. However, it also plays with your pride. I’ll be damned if I’m going to slow down and have some thirteen-year-old kid tailing me and wishing the old man would just get out of the way, go home, and take a nap – so full-throttle was the only answer.
After a mountain coaster ride, you find yourself at the bottom of the hill with a wide grin. Our second ride could have easily led to a third, fourth, etc. But we had a full day planned.
State forests are everywhere in this part of New York, and they are filled with hiking trails. Highlights included Little Rock City Trail, where the star of the show is, believe it or not, rocks! The trail is certainly unique and worth a visit.
The path to Bridal Falls is less than a quarter-mile, but the scenery is fantastic, especially if you are lucky enough to experience it alone. We had the peaceful falls to ourselves for at least 20 minutes. You can also hike along the river in either direction.
A long day of hiking can make me hangry, especially after Lori leads me up the side of a mountain for an hour straight. Not surprisingly, the Ellicottville dining scene was slow in the middle of the week during a pandemic.
I love to travel to the world’s largest cities, where crowds energize me. However, what I would usually consider boringly slow and quiet, was perfect. There were just enough restaurants open, with outdoor dining to give us some variety. Wait times were nonexistent or minimal.
I’m still somewhat paranoid about eating in restaurants. But given New York City’s early struggles with the coronavirus, most of the restaurants we visited in the state were taking precautions seriously. All employees wore masks, and tables were separated. It’s funny how eating a meal in a restaurant parking lot went from “You’ve got to be kidding me!” to “Best thing ever!” in a few months.
Ellicottville Brewery stood out as there is a fantastic beer garden that is somewhere you’d want to have a meal and linger, whether during a pandemic or not. I tend to be a diner that prefers a delicious meal slapped on a paper plate in a rundown shack than a bland meal served with china, candlelight, and pretentiousness. But after four months of semi-lockdown, I’m gaining a new appreciation for ambiance. Combine a pint of rye barrel-aged beer, decent food, and a string of lights – I’ll be happy every time.
A highlight of our trip was the amazing house Lori found through VRBO. It was probably more house than the two of us needed as it had three bedrooms and could sleep at least eight people, but the extra space was fantastic.
I cried myself to sleep the night I found out our condo association was banning grills – the result of a neighbor melting the vinyl siding off the building. I even wrote a nicely worded letter to the board, but they took no pity on me. My grill now sits in the back of my garage, waiting to make a triumphant return sometime in the future. However, our house in Ellicottville had a glorious grill on the back porch that I used several times – just like riding a bike.
As if one porch was not enough, there was another in front of the house. It was the classic, sprawling porch you see on many older homes. Perfect for rainy days, warm nights, and a morning coffee. Our house was on the main street leading into Ellicottville, so we were able to watch the world go by from our perch. There is something about a pandemic that makes you appreciate the well-designed outdoor space of a house.
I still don’t feel comfortable jumping on a plane, but I see it in my future. The day will come when I’m released from the confines of this pandemic and jetting off to exotic locations on a different continent to see, taste, and experience the world once again. I imagine it will be with even more excitement and intensity than usual, given current circumstances.
However, I will always look back fondly on our Ellicottville trip. It will never be the bucket-list, destination of a lifetime, filled with exotic people, food, and languages, but it will forever be a great memory. It will always be the first trip we were able to take after the pandemic hit, and it will forever remain exactly what we needed at the time.
David Tuzzolino, CFA, CFP®, is the Founder and CEO of PathBridge Financial, a firm that specializes in providing comprehensive financial planning and investment management services for clients that are nearing retirement and love to travel. This summer he can be found manning the nearest grill, at least when there’s not a mountain coaster nearby.