Ocean to ocean



Liz Niner, a retired special education teacher’s aide, decided that 2017 was the year she would check off another item on her bucket list: Traveling across the U.S. in a 1960 MGA sports car.

She and her husband, Lee, have been involved with MG sports cars since 1981. They spent years showing off their three cars around the U.S. and in Canada and Great Britain, so it made sense that a cross-country trip would be on her to-do list. But for Liz, it wasn’t just another ride.

In 1996, she was diagnosed with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy — a genetic disorder that causes progressive weakness primarily in the muscles of the face, shoulder blades, upper arms and lower legs. Today, her health makes it difficult to get in and out of the couple’s remaining MGA 1600 sports car, and she went from walking slowly to using a cane to now using a walker. But she was determined not to let her disease get in the way of her travels.

The couple set off on their trek in June, leaving their home at TidePointe, a Vi Community, and driving 600 miles up the East Coast to Virginia Beach, Virginia. There, they joined six other MGA drivers taking part in the Ocean to Ocean caravan organized by the Mid Atlantic Chapter of the North American MGA Register, an organization for classic car lovers.

They traveled 300 to 400 miles each day on secondary roads, leaving plenty of time to take in local sights. Westward across Virginia, Tennessee and Arkansas, Liz navigated the MG, her walker strapped to the top of two soft pieces of luggage on the rack mounted on the car’s trunk. Crossing the Mississippi River, they headed westward through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, where temperatures regularly soared above 100 degrees. But still the couple cruised on, rolling down the famed Route 66 and staying in an authentic 1950s motel, where the period bathtub was a challenge for Liz and her limited mobility. But she wasn’t discouraged, thanks to her disciplined exercise and physical therapy regime of floor exercises, machines and water aerobics — and the set of rubber stretching bands she used to exercise nightly while on the road — which kept her core strong and made traveling in the confines of the MG comfortable.

“I really wanted to send a message to anybody that I encountered that somebody with FSH can do things, meet people and experience the sights and sounds of a cross-country trip in a period sports car,” she said. “Heck if I could do the trip in a 57-year-old sports car with no air conditioning and no windows, most anybody could make the trip in a regular car, van or truck.”

From Arizona, the convoy of classic cars headed to California, stopping in Santa Barbara for breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. The MG was shipped back to Hilton Head while Lee and Liz spent another week sightseeing in California, finishing the journey not by car but aboard a plane for a flight back to the Lowcountry and their TidePointe cottage.

The highlight of the trip? The couple agreed the best moments came from experiencing small-town America — enjoying local specialties during meal breaks, talking with residents during gas stops and motel stays. Liz said the journey reminded her of the lyrics to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”: From California to the New York island, From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters … In the wheat fields waving and dust clouds rolling … This land was made for you and me.”