By Elizabeth SheanThe asphalt highway unspools behind my truck like a black ribbon. I've literally been down this road before, making my way from Albuquerque to Hatch, New Mexico, to meet up with a friend. It's Saturday, and I'll be staying overnight before heading home again on Sunday. The act of getting away from home, from caregiving duties, for even 24 hours makes me feel giddy, and I turn up the radio and sing along to hits from the 1980s as I turn off Interstate 25 and roll toward Hatch.Hatch is known as the "chile capital of the world" because its farmers produce the best, tastiest peppers in all the land. Cruising into the small town, I recall the last time I was here, a decade ago. My late husband, Lee, and my late brother-in-law, Hal, and I drove through Hatch en route to Tucson to clear out the contents of the retirement house my late parents-in-law had occupied.All of those "lates" in my reverie dampen my mood in an instant and bring a sudden moisture to my eyes. So many loved ones lost over the past few years. And, I know there's at least one more to come, as my mom heads toward the end of her road, too.Our trip a decade ago happened to coincide with the town's annual fall chile festival to celebrate the harvest. Today, as I gaze toward the town center, I can picture the crowd, the children, the floats we saw, and red chile ristras hanging everywhere, with the deliciously pungent smell of peppers roasting. So festive. Hatch is a very small town, but it was bulging with visitors that weekend. Lee and I shared a green chile cheeseburger that was so spicy we had to guzzle two glasses of milk to douse the fire in our mouths. We laughed about that for years. In fact, I laugh about it now, remembering it, and my mood shifts back into something positive again.Continuing to my friend's house, I pass the spring fields with their rows of tender green plants stretching skyward. The red dirt road to my friend's place is rough and bumpy, but the trip is worth it. She greets me with a cold glass of iced tea and a warm welcome that only an old friend can deliver. We chat for hours on her porch, moving indoors later to share cooking duties in the kitchen—something we always did together in college and then as young adults on our own. It feels like no time has passed as we share intimacies late into the night.Tomorrow I will turn around and head back the way I came, down the washboard road to the blacktop. The blue skies will stretch overhead like a sun sail, and the yuccas I love will line the roadside with their tall, spiky flowers. If I'm lucky, I'll see a hawk dive into a field to catch a mouse for breakfast. I'll have plenty of time to think about life and caregiving and what's to come over the course of the four-hour drive north to Mom—to home. I know where the road ends, but this trip reminds me that the journey is to be savored.
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