Exposure to cold temperatures and being on edge will each impair your working memory. That’s when you have to remember several bits of information for a short period of time. For example, the seven digits in a telephone number as your punch the numbers into your cell phone. Or the degrees of latitude you need to accurately punch into your GPS. There are two dimensions of this process; you have to learn it in the first place, and then recall it long enough to make the correct entry. Both physical and psychological stress will interfere with both.

Stress impairment of cognition is a major concern of the Department of Defense. Many battles are coordinated by soldiers having to relay via radio or a keyboard very specific instructions. Battlefield conditions are the perfect backdrop for mistakes to be made, and sadly, we read about missiles arriving at the wrong set of coordinates all too frequently. So is there something that can be done to minimize such errors? The U.S. Army has determined that the amino acid tyrosine may help. After a day of combat, soldiers were place in front of a computer screen and showed a series of random shapes. The screen then went blank and at various intervals, they were shown the same configuration alongside an almost identical array, except one of the objects was very slightly altered. The task was to correctly identify the exact match for extended periods of time following the initial viewing. Administering 150mg/kg body weight of the supplement tyrosine significantly improved the soldiers ability to remember, while drinking a glucose sweetened beverage helped with the initial learning. I’m a fan of whole foods and tend to avoid any type of supplement, especially vitamins. However, when circumstances call for it, I become a big fan of DuPont’s motto, “Better living through chemistry.” Tyrosine is the precursor for a number of stress-related neurotransmitters, and glucose is the only fuel that the brain runs on. Therefore, it makes sense. And if you are like me and prefer to avoid pills, drink skim milk. It’s loaded with protein that happens to pack a lot of tryrosine. This will not only help preserve your short term memory during stress, it will perk up your brain as well. Of course carrying skim milk for a week or more in a kayak isn’t practical, in which case supplements are an option.


Every WaterTriber knows that the physical part of completing a challenge is far easier than the mental part. However, in reading through the various blogs, past and present, mention of physical preparations always precedes a discussion of what we do to ward off the mental demons. Indeed, I realize that I was about to follow the same trend when, in my first post, I essentially dismissed the mental preparation when I noted it would take place concomitantly with the physical training. That’s after acknowledging how important the mind is! I’m not sure why so many of us pay lip service to the importance of attitude, motivation, and other domains of the mind, yet proceed to document time practicing on the water, working out in the gym, etc. without even a mention of the critical significance of the brain. That’s why I’m going to depart from my original intent and pick up the physical training later.

The amygdala is a tiny, almond-shaped structure tucked away in the inner recesses of your brain. Think of it as your personal Office of Homeland Security. Even when you are not consciously aware of a lurking threat, this part of your brain is monitoring the environment and connecting the dots. When it happens subconsciously, we call it intuition.  Activation of this structure will make you depressed, sap your motivation to continue, and interfere with your ability to make good decisions. You don’t want any of that to happen late at night, deep in the Everglades, or when you must guide a crippled boat through rough surf ahead of a looming storm. That’s when you need all of your wits about you, which, in turn, requires an amygdala that’s operating in the safe zone.

There are two things that will cause this tiny brain structure to go haywire and give rise to the things that will have you heading back to civilization instead of to the finish line. One is stress. It makes sense. If you are faced with adversity, then safety becomes a high priority, and your brain will urge you to take steps to withdraw and to seek refuge in familiar territory. It’s pretty clear from reading the waiver that all WaterTribe events are likely to present any number of dangerous scenarios – exactly the type that will have you torn between heading back to the parking lot at Fort Desoto or continuing into the dark and stormy night. But anyone who has read this waiver knows that. Chief makes it very clear that no permanent decision should be made until after a good meal and a decent night’s sleep. Let the stress wear off and the amygdala calm down before making a decision. Indeed, when I managed the 2011 EC, I always told people who called at night to report their dropping out that I would wait until hearing from them the next morning before making it official.  Stress interferes with judgment and motivation. We know that, and we prepare ourselves, in part, by simply having that awareness. However, there’s something else that will have your amygdala firing in the red zone, thereby pressuring you into a decision that you ultimately may regret. Like the mind, we all pay lip service to it, but then we ignore or even abuse it. It’s called the immune system.

White cells are doing far more than battling bacteria and viruses. In recent years, scientists have learned that the immune system communicates with the brain. In recent months, we now know that just about any form of inflammation is capable of activating your amygdala and, thereby, triggering depression, sapping your motivation to continue, and interfering with your ability to make good decisions. That, too, makes sense. When you are fighting an infection, you don’t want to be motivated to kick up your heels and expend lots of energy when your immune system needs to restore your health. However, commonplace things that well might happen between the start and finish of a WaterTribe challenge also can set this process in motion. Anything capable of triggering inflammation is going to turn on the immune system, which, likewise, is going to turn on the part of your amygdala that will make it difficult to make wise decisions. And it doesn’t have to be the type of inflammation that will find you devouring amounts of ibuprofen capable of subduing a horse. It could be that mild gum infection that you might have been ignoring, that swelling on your big toe from when you cut yourself on an oyster bar heading out of Chokoloskee that you might have been dismissing. How about a mild reaction to some bad water or that poorly cooked burger you ate at the marina restaurant? Or those badly swollen feet and hands? You stoically may press on, thinking that the physical part of the injury is the most serious obstacle that you need to overcome. However, there’s a mental part as well. The chemicals produced by an activated immune system act in the brain to make you lethargic, to sap your motivation, and to make bad decisions, etc. This may not be a problem under normal circumstances.  However, when you find yourself in a rapidly failing environment, trying to determine how best to get to the finish, your amygdala will be urging you to wait and try again next year.  Later, I’ll describe ongoing research that reveals things you can do using behavior and nutrition that will make your immune system and brain work for, and not against, you.


There are over 600 muscles in the human body and I am now intimately aware of them all as I train for the 2012 edition of the Ultimate Florida Challenge. That’s because preparation for my third UFC encompasses  walking, swimming, cycling, and paddling/pedaling the Hobie Adventure Island that I’ve chosen to use. There’s also a routine to prepare the muscle groups needed to get myself back into the boat, lift myself onto a dock, drag the boat to the high tide mark and various other chores likely to arise during the challenge. Training began in earnest the second week of December, and I’m very pleased that there are 57 days remaining before my now aching muscles have to be ready to perform without my being reminded of their existence.  At least that is my hope. There also will be mental preparation, much of which will occur concurrently with the physical part as I deal with the long training hours under sometimes less than optimal conditions.

The purpose of this blog is three-fold: 1. Document the training for those who might have an interest in such things, 2. Motivate myself to do what needs to be done so that I’ll have something to write about on a regular basis, 3. Serve as the basis for a high school advanced placement psychology course curriculum being taught at Wharton High School in Tampa, Florida. The latter is the reason many of the posts will have an underlying theme pertinent to the topics being conveyed to the students. After the launch, I’ll be providing the students with daily updates in the form of audio and video files transmitted from my i-phone. It may be possible to post them here as well. At least, that’s the plan. I’ll spare you all the background information about who I am and why I’m doing this. That information is at . Additional essays prepared for the teaching of English literature and history can be found in the Pelican’s Poop series, which can be accessed directly at It begins with an account of a blind amputee’s quest to complete the 2009 Everglades Challenge, and it then picks up with insights that I experienced while training and completing the 2006 UFC.

However, if you’re not interested in wading through all the stuff on the website, no worries. Here are the basics:

  • Happily married 41 years with two daughters and 5 (soon to be 6) grandchildren.
  • 63 year old college professor and director of team building and leadership training at Saddlebrook Resort, near Tampa.
  • Participated in WaterTribe challenges since 2002.
  • Formal training and research experience in Psychoneuroimmunology. If you know what that is, great. If you don’t, it will become apparent during the course of these forthcoming posts.