On this “episode” of 67 Designs Customer Spotlights we’re taking a deeper look into the life of fleet customer and outdoors-man MacKenzie MacKay. A very successful entrepreneur and business owner with a keen sense of adventure, MacKenzie recognizes that it’s just as important to know where you’ve come from as it is to know where you’re going. Rooted in the ordinary majesty of community, family, and love of the land, he's equally compelled to discover what lies beyond. This is a glimpse into his lifestyle of literally living off the land.
A Canadian who’s lived his entire life in Alberta, MacKenzie is proud of his family’s heritage that includes multi-generational ties to their hometown of Cochrane. His children make up the sixth generation of Cochranites. The MacKay family’s ice cream business, which started from humble beginnings but has grown into a regional staple, recently celebrated their 75th anniversary under third generation MacKays. It’s a place where family is truly knitted into the fabric of the community.
Cochrane lies in the Bow River Valley between the metropolitan area of Calgary and Banff National Park. Having evolved from a large cattle ranch established in 1881 to a town in 1971, Cochrane’s origins are reflected in the western culture that defines this charming town. When MacKenzie was a child, the town’s population was around 2500. Today that number is closer to 35,000 as the exodus from the larger cities has made an impact on this once small community. MacKenzie is fortunate to live on an acreage just outside of town with the Canadian Rockies dominating the nearby landscape. In many ways those mountains have been a mainstay in MacKenzie's life. Not only have they served as a source of regional pride, livelihood, and adventure, but also as the cathedral where he and his wife were married.
You might say MacKenzie was born with an entrepreneurial spirit, nurtured in his youth by his father Allan who owned and operated an excavating company. Growing up, MacKenzie was always around that type of work and operating heavy equipment came second nature to him. This would prove useful not only to his dad at the time, but also later in MacKenzie’s own business. His first solo, billable job for his dad came at the age of fourteen utilizing a loader backhoe. Around the same time, he also started a lawn maintenance and landscaping business which he ran through his mid-twenties. The business ventures that MacKenzie started in those formative years continued to evolve, focusing primarily on earthworks, into the business he’s still running today - AM MacKay Diversified. Working around equipment, in the great outdoors, is all he’s ever known.
Taking Care of Business
As his business started to grow, he tried to be all things to all people and quickly found that was unsustainable long-term. He managed all facets of the business and had up to a dozen employees. Now, the work has transitioned to a much more manageable – though still often overwhelming – workload requiring only him and one employee. They do have other folks they can lean on when needed, including his dad who still assists administratively as a joint venture partner on some larger projects. With the kind of work he does, it’s either feast or famine and you’re nearly always at the mercy of the weather and other conditions beyond your control. “You have to make hay while the sun shines.” Most of the work they do is in remote areas of the mountains, in very rough terrain. Not unlike his father’s business, a lot of their work projects come from the provincial and federal parks systems, performing trail maintenance and construction, installing underground cable, bridge installation, water and wastewater treatment, and much more. In 2013, catastrophic flooding in the provincial parks destroyed virtually everything including highways and other access roads. Since then, his company has been integral to the rebuilding efforts there. The crowning accomplishment in this work came from a 40-kilometer trail loop that took multiple years to rebuild, along with a 95.5-foot bridge across a river. Due to the remote location and rugged nature of the terrain, they had to bring in a helicopter from British Columbia which then flew two pieces of newly constructed bridge onto a gravel bar on the river where it was then reassembled. Two large excavators moved the pieces up a steep trail where an awaiting 75-ton all-terrain crane lifted it into place across the 40-foot-deep canyon. The finished product came to rest on previously poured concrete abutments that required 28 trips with a helicopter to long line the concrete into the awaiting forms.
Due in large part to the weather, the typical work season runs from March or April until Christmas. The work is physically and mentally taxing, making for long and exhausting workdays. In the offseason they generally work in the shop, maintaining, repairing, or generally assessing their equipment. But they also use this time to get out and away for a well-deserved break.
Working with his dad as a kid, MacKenzie literally grew up living out of a camper trailer in the gravel pits of national and provincial parks during the summer. Whether he was hiking, mountain biking, snowmobiling, camping, or tooling around the four-wheel drive trails, he always had a strong connection to the outdoors. That hasn’t wavered as he’s gotten older. He takes every chance he gets to escape further into nature and away from the ever-increasing tourist crowds that have flooded his hometown. As someone who’s accustomed to dreaming big in other aspects of his life, MacKenzie approaches the offseason with the same principles. Why limit your adventures when you can explore the world?
Taking advantage of that downtime, MacKenzie and his wife travel extensively and usually spend one to two and a half months roaming. While they’ve previously traveled in an RV, travel trailer and even by motorcycle, their current adventure vehicle of choice is the EarthCruiser. It allows them to cover all the ground they need to while serving as a base camp. Since purchasing the EarthCruiser in 2019, they’ve taken it down the west coast of the U.S., gone all the way to Cabo San Lucas and back a couple of times, motorcycled through Death Valley, and most recently spent ten days in and around Glacier National Park. They set up camp in the less traveled areas on the west side of the park where they savored the serene beauty of the lake while watching the sun’s light fall on the mountains. Along with four other like-minded couples, their evening gatherings were spent whispering in reverential awe, as if the sound of their voices would diminish the tranquility they’d found. Although they enjoy the companionship of other adventurous people they meet along the way, they normally travel solo. They’ve learned that to get the most out of their travels they must be flexible and that’s much harder to do with additional travel companions.
One of their more memorable adventures was a trip to Baja. They’d camped on a beautiful remote beach with abandoned structures of a long-forgotten historical town, only to find out later that the beach was notorious for drug running. Some of the more amazing adventures they’ve had closer to home include one that started out as a mountain biking trip to Valemount, British Columbia. While enjoying their adventures at around 2600 feet, they kept looking up in wonder at Canoe Mountain which sits above the town at around 9,000 feet. As if simultaneously having the same idea, they turned to each other and asked, “wanna drive up?” The answer was obvious so off they went in the EarthCruiser. While the road up the mountain was particularly rough, it only continued to deteriorate as elevation increased. They kept meeting folks on their quads coming down, giving them quizzical looks. Undeterred, or maybe blissfully ignorant, they continued on as the road got much rougher, narrower, and trickier. They eventually got all the way up to the top of the mountain and despite the harrowing situation they’d found themselves in, soon realized it was all worth it to experience the most amazing place they’d ever been able to go in their truck. They were surrounded by snow, even in August, and were looking down on an amazing view of Kinbasket Lake. Inching down from the summit, they figured since they’d made it that far, they might as well camp there, making for an unforgettable experience.
The MacKays had previously been to Thailand and found it so enchanting that they’re talking about returning, this time taking a more primitive route by backpacking in southeast Asia – particularly Vietnam. They’re not planning on shipping the truck just yet but would like to at some point. Ideally, they would travel around the world in the winter, leaving the truck behind so they could pick up where they left off on their journey when they returned. Their dream is to travel across the five ‘stans’ in central Asia, that once made up the former Soviet republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan). But they’re not stopping there. They eventually want to get their EarthCruiser to Australia, and eventually all over the world.
MacKenzie first became a 67 Designs customer in 2019 when he sought a device mounting solution for the EarthCruiser. After seeing how well the mounts worked, he began to think about ways in which he could solve device management issues in their business vehicles and particularly in their equipment. Their unique needs included something that could handle the jarring movements encountered when running the heavy equipment yet still provide stable protection for devices. After discussing this with 67 Designs representatives, they came up with a customized solution and MacKenzie now has the mounts throughout his business fleet. Currently that fleet consists of three excavators (ranging from eight-ton to 25-ton), a dozer, wheel-loader, tracked-loader, gravel truck and trailer, highway tractor and lowbed, service truck and various pickups and trailers.
Living the Good Life
For the MacKays, life is a continual adventure. Whether it’s through the many work projects he’s involved in or the family’s travels, they enjoy a treasured bond with nature. They don’t shy away from whatever it takes to be filled with adventure and they pursue it with the same passion they do everything else in life.
This Customer Spotlight by Tricia Soderstrom.
This series was envisioned and created by Kate Della Pietra in the summer of 2020 when she worked for 67 Designs as a marketing intern.