Veteran hiking guide Bob Mills jogged the Berkshire byways back in the ’60s – long before fitness hit the public radar. Nicknamed “the Silver Fox,” “General Mills,” and “Bee-Bob,” Bob has guided guests on outdoor adventures at Canyon Ranch in Lenox since 1990, one year after it opened. Square-jawed, grandfatherly and deeply knowledgeable about plants and wildlife, he has a razor-sharp wit, and at 85 he can out-hike many a 40-year-old.
A former marketing executive with six children and six grown-up grandchildren, Bob has always loved the outdoors, but had never considered making his hobby into a career. “Hiking was something we did as a family on weekends, like skiing,” he says. When he retired from the corporate world, he spent 10 years as a top-notch downhill ski instructor and a guide at the Norman Rockwell Museum before bringing his expertise and enthusiasm to Canyon Ranch in Lenox.
Right from the start of his career as a hiking guide, Bob felt strongly that there’s more to hiking than simply following a trail. During his first months on the job, he researched local flora and fauna and details of the terrain, and produced a field reference guide for use on hikes. He also included many items of historical and social significance. “There’s a lot of history here in New England,” he says. “When we share that information, it makes hikes a lot more interesting for guests.”
Return guests seek him out, and others forget his age as he mentors them through hikes, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. “I identify with youngsters,” he says. “Everybody is younger than I am, but I almost feel like I’m their contemporary. I think young.” Actually, age isn’t an issue, he says. When a group of people are chatting and enjoying the outdoors together, “those lines are kind of erased. It’s a leveling influence.”
And, he says, “You develop a lot of relationships over the years. When repeat guests come back, it’s like a reunion.”
Outdoor programs at Lenox have seen constant evolution in the course of two decades, Bob says. Back in 1990, snowshoes – now high-tech, lightweight metal – were made of wood and rawhide, and Lenox offered 20 to 25 hiking destinations. Today, that number has increased to more than 90 choices, along with added outdoor options from kayaking and sculling to the High Ropes course, “hike and paint” expeditions, and tai chi hikes.
Since he turned 79, Bob has slowed down to intermediate-level hikes, but he works out regularly and hits the weight room three times a week. “You’ve got to keep your body working,” he says. “If you don’t want to lift weights, there’s always walking. Set yourself a goal and get out on a regular basis.” In addition to taking good care of himself, Bob teaches English as a second language in his spare time, and has volunteered in New Orleans helping to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
“The remarkable thing about Bob is that he spans the generations,” says Lenox Outdoor Sports Director Mike Duffy, who was with Bob on his first hike in Lenox. “He’s a really experienced guide. Guests adore him. People just look at him and say, ‘that’s where I want to be.’ He’s living proof that this kind of lifestyle is good for you.”