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'My Journey To Find The Lost And Myself' With Susan Purvis

Apr 18, 2019

Somewhere between hunting for gold in Latin America as a geologist and getting married to a new husband, thirty-three-year-old Susan Purvis loses her way.

Susan comes to believe that a puppy and working on ski patrol at the last great ski town in Colorado will improve her life. When she learns about avalanches that bury people without warning, she challenges herself: “What if I teach a dog to save lives?” This quest propels her to train the best possible search dog, vowing to never leave anyone behind.

Go Find: My Journey to Find the Lost and Myself

The following highlights are from a conversation with Susan Purvis about her book, "Go Find: My Journey to Find the Lost and Myself." To hear the full conversation, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast.

Sarah Aronson: What were the moments in your life when you were faced with fear and either you succumbed to it or you overcame it?

Every time I sat down to write my book. The little devil in my head would say, you can’t do this. Who do you think you are going to write a book? You need to be working. Instead of giving myself permission, I fought myself every day to sit down out of fear I’d be a failure.

When did you know you had a book in you?

Probably in the third grade. I always knew I wanted to write a book, but I just had to go live the right story to tell. When I was working my dog, I was always getting interviewed and I always wanted to be a writer, but I felt like I never had the writing chops, or, I couldn’t make a living, so I had to go do other things.  Then one day I said, I have enough money, I have enough time and space in my life where if I don’t do this now, life will pass me by. And by golly if I can train a dog to find a person, I can write a book about training a dog to find a person.

What’s the analogy here between training a dog and writing a book?

I had to recount all of my training when I was writing my book and then when I found I was writing my book I’m like, oh my god I’m in the training phase of learning how to write a book! I had to go surround myself with mentors, join a group, hang out with writers, read a lot, write a lot. Then I realized once I sold my manuscript, it was like getting certified with my dog Tasha. Then when my book came out, now the missions are starting to happen, but not many people know, so now I have to go sell myself just like I had to do with my Search and Rescue dog.

Break

In terms of your own sense of being lost, toward the end of the book, you write: “I’m not lost. I’m not unloved. I’m not unhappy. The bottom line, though, is that I’m not aware of how lost I actually am.” How did you get lost in your own life?

I feel like, now that I’ve written the book and the book has been out for a while, I’m like the lost expert. I say in my book that I could understand where any lost person would go and Tasha could tine them, yet in my own personal life I got lost, I got off path. What I had to do in my discovery and in my book, is I could have written a book just about our missions, but three years into writing my book I wrote the end of my last chapter, which is all of a sudden I get caught in an avalanche—not a physical avalanche, but an emotional avalanche—and I thought, but I’m the expert! How does the expert get caught?!

I had to go back read the one book that really influenced me was by Laurence Gonzales called “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why.” He talks about the five phases of being lost, or Elisabeth Küebler-Ross talks about the five stages of grieving. It’s all the same stuff, and I realized the first phase is denial. I had been in denial in my personal relationship with my husband for a very long time. I didn’t have the tools to fix the problem. We tend to ignore it, or bury it, or put it under the rug. Eventually, if we don’t pay attention, things are going to fall apart. . . we can be in denial about our health, our relationships with people, the relationships with ourselves, our business, our finances, or you can get lost in the woods.

About the Book:

Somewhere between hunting for gold in Latin America as a geologist and getting married to a new husband, thirty-three-year-old Susan Purvis loses her way.

Susan comes to believe that a puppy and working on ski patrol at the last great ski town in Colorado will improve her life. When she learns about avalanches that bury people without warning, she challenges herself: “What if I teach a dog to save lives?” This quest propels her to train the best possible search dog, vowing to never leave anyone behind.

To aid in her quest, she chooses a five-week-old Labrador retriever, Tasha, who constantly tests Susan’s determination to transform her into a rescue dog. But Susan eventually learns to truly communicate with Tasha by seeing the world through her dog’s nose.

Training with Tasha in the field to find, recover, and rescue the lost became Susan’s passion. But it was also her circumstance—she was in many ways as lost as anyone she ever pulled out of an avalanche or found huddled in the woods. “Lostness” doesn’t only apply to losing the trail. People can get lost in a relationship, a business, or a life. Susan was convinced that only happened to other people, until Tasha and a life in the mountains taught her otherwise.

Susan Purvis
Credit Becky Lomax

About the Author:

Susan Purvis is an outdoor aficionado, author, and world traveler having worked on all seven continents. She’s had a career that’s spans the globe as gold exploration geologist in Latin America, wilderness medicine and avalanche educator, and search and rescue dog handler.  Over the course of her tenure with her black Labrador retriever, Tasha, the duo responded to over 65 missing person missions using their combined certifications is wilderness, water, avalanche, and cadaver.  They received Congressional Recognition for the recovery of avalanche victims.

Susan’s outdoor education company, Crested Butte Outdoors International (www.cboutdoors.com) captured the attention of The Oprah Show, the US Secret Service, the FBI, and the ATF.  As a wilderness medicine expert, she’s been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, on CNN and appeared on the science documentary, The Hottest Place on Earth, aired on the BBC and Discovery Channels. Her medical career has had her working for National Geographic Channel, truTV, and in 2013 returned from 45-day expedition to Queen Maud Land, Antarctica.  In 2018, Susan was inducted into The Explorers Club, just one of 830 in the world.

When Susan is not teaching you can find her boating on the cold, clear rivers in northern Montana or in search of the last snow powder stash. "Go Find" is her first book.