Joel Reichenberger: Racers rooted in Routt County |

Joel Reichenberger: Racers rooted in Routt County

Tom Thurston and Heather Siirtola spent the entire day Wednesday traveling in terrain as desolate as can be imagined.

Even though she was at least partially responsible for Thurston and Siirtola’s trek down the frozen Yukon River in Alaska, Carol Bloodworth tucked into a warm bed that night, just the same as always.

Bloodworth slept without a twang of guilt, however. Instead, she was proud. As Thurston and Siirtola flew down the icy trail of the Iditarod, she could only remember the fresh-faced mushers she helped introduce to the sport years ago.

Thurston and Siirtola got their start behind a dog team by working with Bloodworth’s Red Dog Runner Sled Tours. The company runs dog sled tours on trails in Stagecoach Reservoir, offering locals and tourists a taste of what life on the trail is like.

That taste was enough to launch Thurston and Siirtola toward the Super Bowl of the sport, this month’s 1,130-mile sled dog race that stretches from one end of Alaska to the other.

Thurston, already dabbling in recreational racing, didn’t get serious about the sport until after his winter working with Bloodworth’s team.

“Back then, he told me he could never get into racing because he would get obsessed with it and take control of his life,” Bloodworth said.

Perhaps Thurston shared that memory Friday afternoon as he and his team pulled out of Shaktoolik, a tiny village along the Bering Sea. That afternoon, the trail led Thurston across the middle of the frozen Norton Sound, a section of the race described as “bleak, flat and deadly monotonous.”

Bloodworth said the man who conquered that stretch is far from the one who came to her looking for a puppy all those years ago.

Siirtola, meanwhile, stumbled into a hobby that would become her world.

Bloodworth said it takes a special kind of person to work for her company, but she rarely has to go looking.

“People like that usually find me,” she said.

She actually had to put an ad in the paper seeking help in 2000, however.

“We got about 65 responses because being a musher seemed so cool to everyone,” Bloodworth said. “It was easy to weed them out, though. Heather applied through the newspaper, and you could tell she was the kind of person that was going to make it work.”

Siirtola moved to Alaska to pursue a future in mushing after a few years running the Red Dog Runner teams around the worn trails of Stagecoach.

On Saturday, she neared the finish of her third Iditarod.

Daryl Gruet is a guide for the company and still wakes up early every morning to take paying customers on a spin around Routt County.

He just started a team of his own and finished a 200-mile race in Oregon this winter.

“I think the Iditarod is in his future, too,” Bloodworth said.

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