Love on the Rocks
The only sticking point in the romance, Andi remembers, occurred last spring when KC showed up in Moab with a brand-new cherry-red Avalanche. A Chevy Avalanche. "When I saw him show up with it, I thought it was a rental," she says. "I couldn't believe he'd buy a Chevy."
KC admits it was an awkward moment. "She was shocked and appalled," he recalls. "But after she got done retching on the side of the trail, she decided she'd still talk to me."
"After I'd learned he was single," Andi clarifies.
Looking back, it may have been the first genuine sign that the relationship was for real; that this time, love -- and a little luxury -- would finally conquer all. "It's got heated seats and hot-and-cold cup holders," Andi acknowledges. "Chevy's put in some nice lifestyle features. So I do like the Avalanche. I'm a bit surprised that I do. But I do."
Besides, she adds, on a scale of "no problem" to "deal-breaker," "there were worse things that could've happened. I figured, okay, now we've got one Dodge and a Chevy. So that's okay."
All that said, however -- and true love notwithstanding -- Andi feels compelled to set the record straight. KC's ride, she stresses, "is really nothing but a jacked-up car."
Andi -- that's Andrea Vogt, although if you called her anything but Andi, most rock-crawlers this side of the Mississippi wouldn't have any idea who you were talking about -- began four-wheeling approximately three decades ago, at age three, in the hills outside of Salt Lake City.
"My dad has always been a greaser," she says fondly. "He raced Triumphs and MGs in high school, wore a white T-shirt and rolled-up jeans. I think I was two or three years old when I was first taken out off-roading, and by the time I was nine or ten, the whole family was heavily involved. I just knew when I got older that that's what I was going to do."
"I love the adventure, the challenge, the scenic beauty," she adds. "I enjoy doing all the modification, jacking up the truck. I like mud."
It's funny, Andi says, that no matter how far you travel in this world, you almost always end up back home in some way. KC -- that's K Casey Kay -- grew up in Vernal, Utah, on a 2,000-acre ranch. If you're counting miles, it's not particularly close to Salt Lake. But if you're looking for common ground, Utah is Utah.
Compared to Andi, KC came to rock-crawling late in life, taking the controls of his first four-wheel rig in 1972, at the age of seven. Back then, of course, four-wheeling wasn't so much a sport as a situation. "Our thinking was that you only used four-wheel drive if it was hunting season, or if you were stuck," KC remembers.
By 1980, when KC had officially earned his driver's license, he'd already been piloting the family's 1971 Blazer up and down the mountains outside of Vernal for several years. In 1983, he bought his very first vehicle: the same Blazer. "My parents charged me $1,500," he says. "I got ripped off." The truck still runs, though, and can be found in his driveway in the foothills southwest of Denver, irritating his neighbors.
Andi's first car was less auspicious: a Gremlin X. "It was ugly," she admits. "We called it 'the zit.' It was bright yellow with a stripe. It couldn't really get up the rocks." But only for lack of clearance: "It had a straight 6 and a 4.2-liter engine."
It was always about the trucks.
KC had been pounding the trails around Moab for several years when one day in 1986 an acquaintance asked him if he could work as a guide. "I had been on it once before," he says, "so I said, 'Sure.' We even made it back into town, every one of us!" In the time since then, KC has become a fixture around the Moab area, leading tours and driving most of the trails that can fit a truck. And some that can't.
In 1995, he finally cut the umbilical cord, automotively speaking, and bought himself a truck of his own: a brand-new Dodge Ram. "The best four-wheel drive I'd ever had," he says. "It took me everywhere I ever wanted to go. And come to think of it, some places I probably shouldn't have gone."
A natural tinkerer and proud gearhead, KC was born to modify. He added lockers on both the front and rear wheels and 36-inch tires all around. He modified the transfer case, added disc brakes and a solid rear axle, and completely redesigned the rear suspension. He body-armored the outside with diamond plate and added custom skid plates underneath. For starters.
Andi had had more trouble getting her own rig. She started shopping for her new Dodge truck in October 1994. Her young husband had died of cancer a couple of years earlier, leaving her with a young daughter to care for. In Salt Lake City a decade ago, that made her an unusual customer.
"It was unheard of to have a single mom with a kid buy a full-sized truck," she says. "It took five dealerships to sell me one. The salesmen would ask, 'Where's your husband? Is your dad going to come down and co-sign?' They found it hard to believe that I was doing it myself. Finally, the fifth one sold me a white Dodge Ram. There were only three others like it in the state; mine was the fourth on the road. And none were female operators.
"I said, 'Thank you for not saying anything about a single female buying a truck.' They said, 'We were thinking it.' I said, 'That's fine. You can think it, but don't say it.'"
The persistence was definitely worth it. There is nothing, Andi will say, like a full-sized Dodge truck. "I love the power," she explains. "I love the reliability. I just love the beefy good looks. With the four-wheel discs, it stops on a dime. The torque is incredible. It corners tightly. The solid front axle is great. I think that's the smartest thing Dodge ever did, the solid axle.
"You don't get the car ride. But," she adds, unnecessarily, "I didn't buy it to be a car."
While trucks on rocks were KC's hobby -- he's a computer instructor by day -- they became Andi's life. She began writing about the off-road world. She shot pictures for magazines that covered the sport. She helped organize the Skyjacker Rockcrawling Championships for Women and basically ran the ProRock National Rockcrawling Championship series -- six events a year, all over the country. She served honorably on the board of the Utah Four-Wheel Drive Association.
In the process, she became an excellent driver in her own right, to the confoundment of many. "People aren't necessarily surprised to see women on the trail," she says. "But they are surprised to see a capable woman. Men are always stopping and coming back to help me when I'm doing just fine. I'm like, 'Get out of my way.' I call 'em Bubbas. Fortunately, there aren't too many of them left out there."
"And she's an excellent mechanic," KC adds. "There are very few people who can drive and do their own mechanical work. She does everything. About the only thing she ever has trouble with is the heavy stuff.
"She's also a welder," he points out, proudly.
Relationships were hard.
KC was a serial dater -- a secretive man of romantic mystery who always seemed to be stringing two or three women along at a time. One girlfriend would appear at a volunteer-fire-department function, letting KC -- a former country-dance instructor -- whirl her around the floor. Later, another would be seen at his house for a few days, sunning herself on some bumper or other while he dropped an engine into the old baby-blue Ford sedan sitting in his driveway. Then, just as suddenly as she had arrived, she'd disappear.
Andi tried to find a soulmate. After her husband's death, she usually found herself dating other rock crawlers. Many, however, couldn't stand the idea of a girlfriend who was more competent behind the wheel than they were. Nothing lasted very long.
The non-four-wheelers were worse.
"It was very hard to date someone who wasn't into it," she recalls. "I felt too dominating. I mean, it's hard to have them as just a passenger, clinging for dear life to the Oh-God handle. We'd be going up a trail, and I'd say, 'How close are we to the edge?' And he'd say, 'Ooooh, we're gonna go off!' I'd get out of the truck and walk around and look and say, "Jeez, we got at least a foot."
"It was very defeating."
If it was a promising sign that KC and Andi met in Moab, it was destiny that it happened in an automotive repair shop.
"I had a blown tire, and I was at a tire shop getting it fixed," Andi says. "KC came in, and we started talking about Dodge trucks. There weren't that many on the road at the time, and definitely not many being used for off-road. I was getting a little flak from the mechanics for being a woman, and he offered to watch my daughter for me."
"I was in awe of her stunning looks," KC says. "She thought I was butt ugly. She didn't say as much, but it was implied."
After Andi's tire was fixed, the two took their matching Rams into the hills. "We went four-wheeling right away," Andi says. "There was a bunch of jeep drivers up there. They were saying, 'You can't take a full-sized truck up here.'
"And we said, 'Watch us.'"
But the two separated after that, and while they would run into each other at least once a year for the next half-dozen years -- usually on some trail or other in Utah, or at a four-wheel event -- they never exchanged phone numbers or e-mail addresses. KC would occasionally see Andi's work in magazines and on four-wheel-drive Web sites; she would see KC and his Dodge posing on some sandstone slope in a trade rag.
Still, Andi says, "Something kind of pulled us toward each other. Whenever we were together, I'd always get the giggles, and he would get particularly shy."
Professional admiration was a strong draw, too. "KC is a great four-wheeler," Andi says. "He picks very good lines to climb. There are good ways and bad ways to go. With the bad ways, you end up with body damage, or you get thrown into a hole and end up with a few broken parts. That's not to say a damaged rig is always a bad thing. But KC is very good at trail reading. He's good at keeping an eye on other people, too."
The pattern of annual meetings and friendly greetings continued until last spring. KC was leading a media tour on a four-wheel trail, and Andi decided to join in. Not surprisingly, KC was with another woman.
"So I asked when he got married," Andi says, "but she turned out to be a media type. He gave me a hug and then a little hand squeeze that says, 'I'm available.'"
It was at this point that Andi decided to forgive KC his Chevy transgression. A good truck is important, sure. But love is love. Besides, by then she was already secure in her own full-sized Dodgeness, having recently traded up to a massive new 2001.
"It's got a five-speed Cummins diesel engine, POD gauges, 20 pounds boost, tuned-up computer system, 295/85 tires, Skyjacker lift, Ramsey winch and a CB radio," she says. "My old truck had a lot more. But I decided to take it easy with the new one."
One thing the new rig did have in common with Andi's '94 were the vinyl decals that read "Woman-owned, woman-operated."
A few years back, Andi had taken over stewardship of a Dodge Ram Internet chat room that she named DiRT, a rough acronym. After KC proposed and she accepted, she posted a proud announcement of the pending union on the site: "We became good friends about six or seven years ago, wheeling our Rams in Moab. (His has been in the magazines quite a bit, as it is pretty heavily modified.)
"He also drives a Chevy Avalanche, has a 70-something Blazer, a 55 Ford Customline and a Honda Rubicon ATV," she gushed to her online friends.
Andi extended an open invitation to the wedding to all her DiRT correspondents. To everyone else, she just bragged. "To me, KC is just so awesome. He's genuine, kind, outgoing. He just adores my daughter. He can also spell."
KC hired a friend to help him prepare his bachelor digs for his new family. For the past two months, the two men have worked like fiends to turn the basement of his small log-sided house outside of Morrison -- until now a vast and filthy rec room for his two donkey-sized dogs -- into a living space suitable for a wife and daughter. In exchange for the work, KC paid his friend by turning over the keys to the old green Dodge that had brought Andi and him together.
This past weekend, K Casey Kay, 37, and Andrea Vogt, 35 -- accompanied by now-twelve-year-old Kateylyn, about 150 of their closest friends and a fair number of modified trucks -- were joined in rocky matrimony. Though not many DiRT members could make it to the ceremony, they pooled their resources and sent the couple a $300 gift certificate to a local restaurant.
As is the case with any union, there are still bumps to be negotiated. Both KC and Andi admit that deciding who will drive and who will ride could get complicated. But Andi is optimistic. "KC can fix just about anything," she says. "Although," she adds, "I don't know about diesels. I guess we'll see."
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