Presenting the winners of South’s Greatest Adventurers of 2020. These nature-loving adrenaline enthusiasts inspire us to take to trecherous terrain, uncharted waters and new horizons. They told us about their wildest encounters and favorite spots to explore in the South.
Doug Tatum runs a company called Ursus Expedition Services and, with a job title of “weapons trainer/bear guard/arctic adventurer,” has staked his claim in the North. Despite his recent Arctic excursions, Tatum was born and raised in the mountains of North Georgia and proudly professes that the Southeast stretch of the Appalachian Mountains is the most beautiful land in the United States.
Tatum’s greatest Southern adventure happened by chance when he – quite literally — stumbled into a bioluminescent pool on Little Tybee. After an evening of tandem kayaking and bourbon-sippin’ under the moon, Doug and his companion began a less-than graceful retreat back to camp. In making their way through the waters, the phytoplankton surprised them with an effervescent glow.
Allison Poore is a true kayak enthusiast. She has conquered waterways in state parks across Georgia. Navigating the Lazaretto creek in her go-to route for not-so-average exploring. Having paddled from the creek over to Cockspur Island at the mouth of the Savannah River with an encouraging show of support from dolphins, past Fort Pulaski, Poore made it to the Cockspur Lighthouse with the Atlantic Ocean just over her shoulder.
Poore’s most memorable kayak adventure was wading through the glass-like surface of George L. Smith State Park in Twin City, Georgia, among waterlogged tree trunks and wildlife. The mesmerizing reflections and sounds created an entranced experience like no other.
Whitney Manning and her husband solidified their place in Georgia fishing history when they boated a 327.9-pound swordfish — the largest to ever be caught off the state’s coast. While a truly amazing feat, capturing this record was like second nature to Manning, who learned to reel in a keeper before learning how to do her makeup. When she isn’t wrangling her three daughters and six fur-babies, Manning joins her husband in their favorite waters, offshore of Savannah, studying the seas. To her, there is no place like floating in the cobalt waves 100 miles offshore, looking out at a golden gradient on the horizon.
Few encounters are more perilous than a run-in with an alligator – the swamp-dwelling terrors of the Lowcountry. While home on vacation from her role as a kayak guide in Alaska, Eleanor Bryant’s leisurely paddle took a blood-chilling turn. Two eyes peered above the surface and took the shape of a several-hundred-pound reptile headed straight for her. Bryant, being the experienced kayaker she is, was able to calmly paddle to safety, despite sporting a broken leg at the time. She knows the waterways like the back of her hand and her respect and admiration for native wildlife afforded her a safe retreat that day. Bryant’s favorite spots to explore in the Southeast are the coastal islands, of which she credits local organizations for protecting the wonderfully diverse wildlife.
The Ocoee River in Tennessee is home to some of the most dangerous and thrilling rapids in the world. Adventurer Eric Russo lives to tell the tale of his most adrenaline-pumping experience in the South. Under the supervision of his friend — a rafting instructor by profession — Russo paddled, battled and rolled his way through the white waters in a gripping experience he wouldn’t soon forget.
Russo represents the intellectual side to adventure, as his favorite places to explore are the multitude of historical towns and pockets the South has to offer. Particularly in Savannah, investigations into the secrets of the American past never end.
Jay Amarillo is South’s Greatest Adventurer of the skies, as the pilot of over 10 years maintains that he spends more time in the air than on the ground. The joy of flying became real for him when he could share the feeling of sheer freedom with his wife, daughter and parents in their first helicopter ride.
From Amarillo’s bird’s eye view, the best spot to explore is the western coastline of the Florida panhandle, where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Southern shores. The perks of being a pilot allow for him to shoot down to Sharkey’s On the Pier in Venice Beach after a morning cruise in the clouds.