From high up on the ship's deck, I could almost see them as I gazed east: Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the intrepid explorers, shambling west through Idaho's Bitterroot Mountains in September 1805, gaunt and hungry. I saw them trudging through an early snowstorm, their buckskin in tatters as they shivered in the dank cold.
But then a steward came by, interrupting my reverie: "Can I freshen your blueberry lemonade?" I was aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird, a small cruise ship on a mission. Supplied with a full bar, a masseuse and 27 other attentive staffers, the 50-odd passengers and I were retracing the westernmost reaches of Lewis and Clark's journey from St. Louis to the Pacific. We were sailing for seven days and 450 miles on a new route for the cruise line: west from the Idaho-Washington border on the Snake River, then south and west over the mighty Columbia, through the cragged Columbia Gorge and on to the ocean before we backtracked east, to Portland. We were traveling in autumn, sampling wild steelhead trout, Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley and, at cocktail hour, platters of local apples and pears. The food was not only tasty but virtuous: The ship's owner, Lindblad Expeditions, had recently deepened its commitment to sourcing sustainable, organic and humanely raised ingredients.
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When we weren't eating the best Northwest food, we were learning about Lewis and Clark. One afternoon, we rode a tour bus to a remote spot on the Clearwater River called Canoe Camp, where, for 10 days in 1805, the explorers hunkered down, carving five massive canoes out of pine trees. Our guide explained that the men were ill at the time, having just gorged on a Nez Perce Indian staple, the starchy, potato-like camas bulb. It wreaked havoc on their digestive tracts, probably because they didn't cook it long enough. After he ate his camas, Clark wrote in his journal, "I am verry sick to day and puke which relive me."