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Why travel? Why NOT! | South Carolina Wild

Father and son adventure-travelers from Camden catch world-wide attention.
By Tom Mullikin | Photos courtesy Tom Mullikin

IN ENGLAND PRIOR TO AND DURING THE 18TH CENTURY, a man of means seeking to expand the educational opportunities for and simultaneously broaden the proverbial horizons of his sons often sought for them a midshipman’s post aboard one of his majesty’s warships.

In time, if the boy (or boys) demonstrated initiative, leadership, and a bit of moral and physical courage, as well as promise and skill in seamanship, navigation and the art and science of Naval warfare – and frankly if he survived the brutally hard life at sea – he might earn for himself a commission as an ensign in the Royal Navy.

Educational opportunities ashore were somewhat limited in terms of universities and the classical disciplines offered in those days. For most young men, it was either theology (if he was going to be a priest or some other type of clergyman), law, medicine or one of the physical sciences. Perhaps a few other programs.

Fortunately, those days are long past.

Today, young men and women have myriad opportunities and subject matter choices for being formally educated at the college or university level. And as far as earning a commission in the 21st century U.S. Navy – or in any of the armed services for that matter – gone are the days of long perilous voyages for the young midshipman. The opportunities today run the gamut from the federal and state military academies, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs and the various officer candidates’ schools and related programs.

Though I wholeheartedly embrace the fact that we all live in this age of boundless opportunity, I am still a bit of what we might refer to as a “creative traditionalist,” as are all of my four professionally accomplished children, including son Thomas Mullikin Jr., 28, who has both earned his university degree and a military commission, as well as having broadened his aforementioned “horizons” with me as we have traveled the globe, climbed many of the world’s greatest mountains, and SCUBA-dived in all the world’s oceans.



Real world experiences to be sure. They may not be the same experiences or part of the same career trek as an eighteenth-century midshipman, but there are indeed parallels.

Tradition, yes. But Thomas and I haven’t traveled simply for tradition’s sake. We’ve traveled – not unlike the crew of a Navy ship during the age of sail – to seek to better understand remote environs and, among those, Earth’s most-fragile ecosystems.

This quest to explore, better understand the environment, document findings, and then talk about what was learned and discovered whether it be in the books I’ve written, films produced, articles, university lectures or even as a “NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC expert,” helping lead a 2016 expedition to Alaska; has become my life’s work. And it is equally becoming a passion for Thomas Jr.

I’m personally also on a quest to achieve a new world record of having become the first human to have climbed the seven great summits and dived in all five oceans. I’ve already achieved four of the seven great summits and many more summits around the world, including Mount Elbrus (the highest mountain in Europe), Mt. Kilimanjaro (the highest in Africa), Mt. Kosciuszko (the highest on the Australian mainland) and Argentina’s famed Mt. Aconcagua (the highest in both the Western and Southern Hemispheres).

My remaining mountains are McKinley (the highest in North America), Vinson (the highest in Antarctica), and, finally, the 29,000-foot (plus some) man-killer, Everest.

…Thomas Jr. was like a pack mule, able to hump more than twice his own weight, never complaining, always smiling, never quitting.


I’ve already logged the dives, including ice dives in the Arctic and the Antarctic Oceans, and I’m a certified polar diver.

Though Thomas’ goals are not the same as mine, they certainly aren’t dissimilar. And he’s with me; helping me; achieving his own goals – and perhaps laying the groundwork for possible future records of his own – all along the way.

As I’ve mentioned, Thomas has traveled with me throughout the world and for much of his life thus far; and because of this (the pre-expedition conditioning and training, the experience of the journeys themselves, and his youth) I can absolutely say that, pound-for-pound, Thomas is one of the physically strongest, mentally toughest young men I’ve ever climbed with. And I’ve climbed with the best.

Perhaps a recent article about my expeditions written by former U.S. Marine infantry leader W. Thomas Smith Jr. (COLUMBIA METROPOLITAN magazine, April, 2017) sums it up best:

“During a recent exploratory, conditioning and training excursion up, around and through a deep stretch of the unforgiving environs of Mt. McKinley (today best-known by its Native American name, Denali), Tom Mullikin was accompanied by son Thomas Jr. and two recently retired U.S. Army Special Forces operators, with multiple combat deployments, one of whom has since become Tom’s hand-picked commander for the South Carolina State Guard’s relatively new mountain search-and-rescue team (one of three such State Guard teams including mountain, wilderness and swift-water rescue; all of which are the brainchild of the Guard’s commander). ‘The team we took up Denali proved to be superb climbers and able to endure great physical hardship,’ says Tom [commander of the S.C. State Guard], ‘But Thomas Jr. was like a pack mule, able to hump more than twice his own weight, never complaining, always smiling, never quitting.’”

Our father-son expeditions have taught us a great deal about the global environment, but we mostly enjoy our beautiful home state of South Carolina.


Thomas has journeyed with me to Russia (Elbrus), Australia (the Great Barrier Reef and Kosciusko), Ecuador, Argentina (Aconcagua) and Alaska (Denali). We have embarked on hunting and fishing excursions in places such as the Galapagos, Hawaii and the Grand Canyon. We have even gone shark diving in the Bahamas among many other destinations, some extremely remote and all not-without risk.

Thomas’ qualifications and certifications include everything from Master Naturalist to shark-feeder qualified. And did I mention, he holds a black belt in karate and is a martial arts instructor? He is also a graduate of the University of South Carolina, serves as director of public affairs for the Mullikin Law Firm in Camden, and is a lieutenant in the S.C. State Guard.

Our father-son expeditions have taught us a great deal about the global environment, but we mostly enjoy our beautiful home state of South Carolina. We have traveled across this great Palmetto State, exploring South Carolina’s lush sub-tropical environs – everything from our picturesque coastlines and beautiful mountains to piney backwoods crisscrossed with ancient, seemingly primal, river systems We have visited natural bird sanctuaries and hiked through the oldest bottomland hardwood forest in North America.

We will have more – Thomas and I – as we explore the highways and byways as well as our off-trail adventures throughout South Carolina. And we’ll be sharing it all right here at South Carolina Wild.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.