Lizzie: Annual traditions are a tricky thing. Year one, it might seem like a great idea to commit the rest of your summer Tuesdays to a recreational bocce-ball league, or pencil in every birthday until you die at a Dave and Buster’s bowling alley. But it’s almost inevitable that, by year five, your annual tradition starts to grate.
There are exceptions, of course. We’re on year seven of our Annual Fall Trip. It’s something we’ve been doing with Ashley (and a rotating cast of other characters) since 2016. Generally, we choose a place somewhere in the tristate area and go there for a period of time ranging from a day to a week. This year, we chose the Finger Lakes, near Kaitlyn’s hometown and where her parents now own a lake house.
Kaitlyn: This was ambitious of us, actually. I’m always explaining that the Finger Lakes are much farther to the west of New York City than they are to the north, though people never listen. When Kathy Hochul became governor, somebody on the internet observed that her house in Buffalo is closer to Cleveland than it is to Manhattan, and many were shocked. It’s also closer to Pittsburgh than it is to Potsdam. Closer to Toronto than it is to Albany. You know, people just do not realize what shape this state is, and they refuse to learn.
All to say we had about a six-hour drive ahead of us to Conesus Lake—one of the stubbier Fingers and, incidentally, the one closest to Kathy’s place—which meant Lizzie and I were a bundle of nerves, having spent several days thinking about Ashley’s legendary commitment to making long drives without stopping for bathroom breaks. The last time we were in a car with her, I was so scared of having to pee that I refused to eat blueberries, viewing them as tiny bombs of liquid. So, on the morning of our seventh Annual Fall Trip, Lizzie and I spent our first hour in the Honda Fit making casual mention of situations in which one might need to use a bathroom—after drinking some water, after some time has passed since last using a bathroom, etc.
Well, it turns out Ashley is at least as merciful as she is beautiful. Mid-morning, she pulled into a mall parking lot in Pennsylvania and let us loose in an enormous Dick’s Sporting Goods that had three taxidermied bears and clean-enough toilets. The rest of the car ride was comfortable and uneventful, and we arrived at the empty lake house around 2:30.
Lizzie: What’s the first thing you would do after a six-plus-hour car ride? For us, it was going to a haunted hotel with “running water in all rooms” to eat soup. The hotel has eight homemade soups on its menu every day, which was appealing enough, but Yelp reviews like “Good place to eat with your grandparents” cemented the hotel’s spot on our must-go list. The restaurant had a checkerboard-tiled floor, a blood-red ceiling, and tartan curtains. There aren’t enough curtains in restaurants these days, if you ask me.
Food-wise, I had split pea (confirmed haunted soup), Kaitlyn had mushroom and potato (confirmed tan soup), and Ashley had a turkey Reuben (confirmed non-soup). My soup did the job, but Kait really loved hers, so much so that she requested the recipe from our waitress, Cindy. In response, Cindy brought over a number of spiral-bound cookbooks with titles like Never Enough Thyme and Hold the Chicken and Make it Pea!, each containing dozens of soup recipes from the hotel owner and soupelier Rose Reynolds. Inside one of these cookbooks, the author lamented the existence of hotel guests who simply take photos of recipes they’re interested in rather than purchasing a cookbook for $20. At this point, Kaitlyn put her phone away.
Kaitlyn: If the cookbook had been $10? Sold, American! As it was, I figured I could probably find suitable instructions on the internet for puréeing potatoes and mushrooms, and I really need to be better with money. Still, I was nervous that Cindy would think I was the type to steal Rose’s work, so I asked her a bunch of questions in my “talking to teachers” voice, including the very normally phrased “Is there a place where a person could watch the Mets game tonight?” (For context, this was Saturday, October 8, 2022, the last good day of many lives.) Cindy offered a couple of sports-bar suggestions and then brought us some free cookies. They were made from another Rose recipe, but, not to be rude … I didn’t want that one.
In the end, we decided we were too tired to drive to any of the recommended spots, so we went back to the lake, ordered pizza, opened a couple bottles of wine, and stayed in. I spent the night darting around, gasping and whooping. In one room, Lizzie and Ashley were marathoning the haunting television program Married at First Sight—thrilling!—and in the other, Jacob deGrom was pitching for the Mets and saving their goddamn lives—thrilling!!! Mixed with the wine, it was a dizzying combination. I went to bed happy as a clam and slept like a rock.
In the morning, we got bundled up for a fall adventure involving numerous stops. Lizzie had forgotten a coat, so we found a my-dad-sized Carhartt for her to wear, which was about two feet too long in every direction. Also, the pockets were full of cookie crumbs.
Lizzie: They were either cookie crumbs or horse treats, according to Kaitlyn’s sister Lauren, who sometimes wears the Carhartt on her riding days. There are farm animals all over the place up there. [KT note: It’s really more over there, as previously established.]
It’s become an ongoing joke that we need to see goats on any trip we go on. (You may remember the goat portion of our day at the Mattituck Strawberry Festival). Here’s a Famous People travel tip for you: If you don’t know what to do in a new place, you can probably find some goats to see. So our first stop of our first full day upstate was Fall Open House at Kaitlyn’s aunt’s alpaca farm, where two goats also live.
I wanted to buy three cups of pellets to feed the alpacas (one for each of us), but Ashley and Kaitlyn only let us buy two. This was probably for the best, since many other people were also feeding the alpacas, and they weren’t that hungry. I fed one named Spice Girl who huffed at me when I ran out of pellets. We exited through the gift shop, as you do, and Ashley bought a furry white House of Gucci hat, proving yet again that she can pull off looks the rest of us only dream of.
Kaitlyn: I’ve seen a lot of people try on those hats over the years. They’re always too embarrassed to really commit to it, always pretending to be doing it as a joke, “unless?” No, sorry. It is a joke unless you’re Ashley.
For some additional background, the alpaca farm is about a quarter-mile down the street from my childhood home. Ashley likes to tell people that I’m a “farm girl” who was raised on “raw milk,” which is literally not the case, but it is true that my cousins and I often played games like “teach the alpacas to jump over things.” We also played a version of hide-and-seek in which the hiders would give clues as to their location over walkie-talkies. We were not allowed to play this anymore after my cousin Hannah, trying to avoid being sought, put her arm through a barn window and nearly bled out.
Anyway, I asked my cousin Becky about the goats. Where did they come from? She said my aunt and uncle bought them a couple of years ago because they’re so funny. You’ll just look over and see them jumping! She was laughing as she described how they will “go flying.” That’s the only reason for the goats.
Lizzie: Next, we met up with Lauren and hit the slopes! Well, there wasn’t actually snow on the ground yet, but we did go to a ski slope to ride the lift. Think of it as a very long horizontal Ferris wheel that provides riders with a view of the surrounding mountains and lakes and autumnal foliage. I’m not even someone who likes landscapes, but it did look like a gorgeous Bob Ross painting.
Kaitlyn: The leaves really were stunning. And for those who enjoy “people watching,” a great feature of a chairlift ride is that you get to stare directly into the faces of those coming back down the other side of the lift. Lauren observed a young father watching a football game on his phone as the toddler in his lap bounced the safety bar up and down.
As soon as we leapt off of the chairlift, it was back to the Honda Fit. We had places to be! Our next stop was a winery promoting grape varietals we had never heard of, a couple of which sounded like viruses and tasted like flat 7 Up. Luckily, Lauren’s high-school friend Johanna was working there, and she gave us a free taste of an apple-cider-doughnut-flavored cider. It was movingly delicious, and our faith in modern beverage science was restored.
Lizzie: The next winery we went to was better than the first, which wasn’t necessarily a difficult bar to clear, but we appreciated it nonetheless. When we got home, ready to cook an extravagant spaghetti dinner, we were greeted by a neighbor’s little orange cat named Milo, who darted into our house as soon as the door was open, like a landlord trying to catch his tenants putting wallpaper on the ceiling. Kaitlyn lured him outside again with a piece of salami while I tried to make an argument for letting him stay (the group of us would repeat this same choreography the next night too).
Dinner came and went with a guest appearance from another of Kaitlyn’s sisters, Sophie, and her boyfriend, Jon. At one point, Sophie asked the question we’ve heard a few times now. Something like: “Are we creating whatever’s going to happen in the newsletter right now?”
Kaitlyn: Lizzie kept insisting that we had no proof that Milo had owners, even after I pointed out that my parents could hardly have found out that his name was Milo from any other source. She also tried to convince me that it was impossible to prevent him from entering the house. “He’s determined,” she said—the grown woman weighing, we have to assume, at least 10 times as much as a small cat.
Post-spaghetti, I drank some sparkling blush and talked to Sophie and Jon about the Mets. Jon knew a lot of the players’ names, so I got excited and started sharing a bunch of feelings about them, but then Sophie became the latest person in my life to express concern about my passion. She’d had no problem when I started going to baseball games, she told me, because she understands the allure of a hot dog better than almost anyone. But to watch baseball games on TV? This was disturbing.
And you know what? She was right, because after she left, I spent three hours in front of a nightmare of a baseball game during which many miserable things happened.
Lizzie: While Kaitlyn watched the Mets get killed, we watched Pete Davidson get killed in Bodies Bodies Bodies. This isn’t a movie-review newsletter, so I have nothing else to say about that!
By the next morning, we figured we should probably do something that involved moving our limbs, since the hours we were spending in the Fit were really starting to get to us. So we went on a hike that was really a walk on a rocky trail next to a Barilla factory. I tucked my pants into my socks as soon as I saw the signs warning us about all the ticks. After we finished our walk, stared at the Barilla factory, and checked my toes for ticks, we went to another bug-adjacent activity: a flea market in an old church. (This was after we ruled out going to a shooting range whose Yelp page featured only a single photo of a shirtless bald man staring sternly into the camera).
Kaitlyn: We are so talented at packing activities into a fall afternoon. From the flea market—where I purchased a lamp shaped like a ghost—we headed to a general store, where we picked up some doughnuts and sat down to read a local paper. (In the classifieds, someone wrote that they were hoping to receive, for free, any “deer antlers, skulls, turkey wings” that might be lying around.) I was morose, due to what had happened with the Mets. (Eliminated in the wild-card round by a team that dresses like UPS drivers … Lord!) I tried to explain to the girls that it was like the day after a breakup—you have this pit in your stomach like you are physically aware that something bad happened the day before, but then you have to keep remembering what it was over and over again. They were like “Yeah … it’s too bad.”
Back at the house, we played a few different games of cards, and I won all of them. We watched an episode of Sex and the City in which it is plainly fall but somehow also the beginning of baseball season. (Triggering.) We drank assorted autumnal beverages—Sam Adams “OktoberFest,” a popcorn-y Chardonnay—on the porch and then went to dinner at a nearby steakhouse, where the waitress complimented us on “feasting.” Everything was amazing, except for the pickle pizza.
After dinner, we conceded that the trip was basically over, which meant we didn’t have to do anything else related to being a New Yorker who has gotten out of the city for a weekend upstate. So we put on Dog Day Afternoon, which Ashley was delighted to learn was filmed on Prospect Park West. About 10 minutes in, she paused in her Googling of production trivia. “Wait,” she said. “Tell me this whole movie doesn’t take place in the bank.”
Lizzie: I’ve seen Dog Day Afternoon more times than I’ve seen most movies, but I think the choice was an indicator that we were ready to go home. Kaitlyn and Ashley both fell asleep toward the end, probably dreaming of Brooklyn, and because they didn’t want to see what happened to poor Sal. I’ve never fallen asleep while watching a movie in my whole life, except for one time watching The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Oh, girlie, please!
Kaitlyn: The next day was a blur—just an hour of tearing Lizzie away from Milo, then six hours of eating Doritos and saying things like “Wasn’t I wearing my glasses when I got in the car?” and then, when we got to Canal Street, “Wouldn’t this be a great time to listen to Taylor Swift’s ‘Welcome to New York’?” I was in the backseat, so I’m sure that’s why no one heard me.