Hiking series across San Dieguito Watershed leads to wedding

Just as most movie buffs know the story of “When Harry Met Sally,” many San Dieguito Lagoon enthusiasts have come to learn the love story of Rob and Vicki.

“We’re actually very famous,” Robert Weisgrau said as he and his new wife, Victoria Monaco, laughed.

The Rancho Santa Fe couple live off of El Camino Real by the San Dieguito Lagoon — a place that’s close to both their hearts.

They met while experiencing the San Dieguito River Valley through the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy’s “Exploring Our Sense of Place” program. And after they share their story with others, some say it’s fate.

“I never thought that I would fall in love so hard like this,” Monaco said. “I think we’re soul mates.”

Both New York natives and parents to three adult children each, Weisgrau has served as a radiologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego since 1990. Monaco, now retired, worked in commercial real estate for about 30 years.

Also both nature buffs, Weisgrau and Monaco separately signed up for the Exploring Our Sense of Place program in 2010.

A longtime supporter of the conservancy, Weisgrau registered for his first hiking series with the organization. Monaco signed up for the series at the suggestion of her next door neighbor, Kimberly Godwin. As an advisory board member for the conservancy, Godwin had previously participated in the program.

“I tried to get a friend to do it with me, but none of my friends wanted to do it with me, so I decided to do it on my own,” recalled Monaco, who had been a widow for about five years at the time. “I stepped outside my box.”

“That’s very unusual for Vicki,” said Weisgrau, jokingly adding that “she doesn’t go to Starbucks alone.”

The annual program kicks off each year in September with a reception at the Del Mar Powerhouse. Although the pair recall seeing each other, they didn’t officially meet until their first hike the following month up Volcan Mountain.

Weisgrau, who was divorced at the time, had invited a friend, but she was unable to make the first excursion. With no partners, he and Monaco naturally started talking on the trail.

“We were talking for a while, and as we were talking, I kind of felt my heart open,” said Monaco, who hadn’t dated anyone after her late husband’s passing. “It was just a really special feeling. I didn’t know what it meant at the time.”

“I was interested, but it was the first hike,” Weisgrau said. “We were going to be hiking every month for about a year. If things went bad, I still wanted to enjoy the hikes.”

Still, Weisgrau and Monaco became quite inseparable after that first hike. In fact, they have pictures of the first day they met because a photographer with the conservancy snapped some shots of the two together.

“It seemed like every picture he took of either one of us, we were both in the same picture,” Weisgrau said. “It’s really very funny looking back.”

By December, Weisgrau asked Monaco to a George Winston concert in North Park after his daughter “ditched” him. Monaco returned the gesture by asking him to a hike from Del Mar to La Jolla at the start of 2011.

The duo went on their first official date to a jazz club on Valentine’s Day 2011.

Following a whirlwind romance, Weisgrau proposed to Monaco on the top of Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy in October 2014. They were hiking the volcano when Weisgrau went down on one knee and proposed in Italian.

The couple married on April 10 at Lomas Santa Fe Country Club in Solana Beach.

“It’s very special each getting a second chance,” Weisgrau said. “It is possible.”

And it all started with a hike.

Created in 2007 by conservancy board member, Chris Khoury, and his wife, Linda Corey, the eight-session seminar series includes a reception and seven excursions with lectures by experts.

The series of educational excursions take participants through the San Dieguito River Valley in the San Dieguito Watershed. The watershed begins on the slopes of Volcan Mountain and merges with the waters of the Pacific Ocean at the San Dieguito Lagoon.

“Rob and Vicki are great supporters of the park and we’re friends,” said Trish Boaz, executive director of San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to sustaining the natural resources of the San Dieguito Watershed. “The conservancy is a fun group that really cares about the San Dieguito River Park and the entire watershed. They say, ‘Birds of a feather flock together.’ You have that with the conservancy.”

Held monthly from September through May, the seminar series covers a variety of topics, including an overview of the River Park; mammals and tracking; water resources, geology and chaparral; bIrds of Bernardo Bay; Piedras Pintadas botany; Native Americans and lagoon restoration.

A graduation luncheon is served at the San Dieguito Lagoon at the end of the program.

“The program is amazing,” Weisgrau said. “You learn so much.”

More than 175 people have graduated from the program. Many have gone on to participate in alumni hikes and share other educational experiences.

While exploring the outdoors and learning about the San Dieguito Watershed, Weisgrau and Monaco said the program is also a perfect way to meet new people — and their relationship is proof.

“I found it very easy to talk to Vicki on the trail out in nature,” Weisgrau said.

“Do the things you do anyway, and see who else is there doing those same things,” he added. “You automatically have something in common.”

Monaco agreed.

“It was just a really nice setting,” she said. “It’s a great way to meet somebody.”

The 2016-17 Exploring Our Sense of Place program is open for registration.

The program is limited to 25 participants. The application fee is $250 per person or $450 per couple.

For more about the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy and the Exploring Our Sense of Place program, visit sdrvc.org and exploringoursenseofplace.org.

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