Dozens of witches took part in a synchronized dance at the Caribbean Club. KELLIE BUTLER FARRELL/Keys Weekly

What started out as a few dozen witches riding along U.S. 1 a decade ago has grown into a magical, quirky and much anticipated tradition that raises thousands of dollars for local scholarships and families in need.

“I just like supporting any kind of public event where you can be foolish,” said Bob Hutchinson, a Key Largo resident of 30 years. “It’s just a great community to live in because people care about each other,” added Hutchinson, who wore a long black cape with a dragon skeleton attached to his bicycle helmet for the 10th annual Key Largo Witches Ride.

This year, 380 people registered to make the charity bike ride from The Catch restaurant to the Caribbean Club, including three women who made a 21-hour drive from their homes in Texas to take part.

“We’ll go anywhere for a fun party and a fundraiser,” said Debbie Fisk of her decision to drive from Texas to Key Largo to participate in the witches ride with her daughter, Casie Anderson, a Key Largo resident. Fisk brought two friends along for the road trip.

“I was busy doing something else not so fun and these two called and said how about we leave a day early and I said okay,” Tana Thomas said. 

“It was a lot of fun, ” added Becky Lee, describing the car ride from Texas to Key Largo. “We sang at the top of our lungs all the way down here, ’70s rock all the way,” said Lee with a laugh.

Kassidy Hebden also came in from Texas to join her friends for the Witches Ride, but opted for a faster mode of transportation. 

“I flew. I’m not as tough as these guys,” Hebden said. “I’m excited about all the women involved and decorating and getting dressed up and just celebrating a good cause,” she added.

Bob Hutchinson shows off his Witches Ride costume. KELLIE BUTLER FARRELL/Keys Weekly

Witches Ride participants made a $25 donation to take part. As always, local businesses stepped up as well, donating loads of goodies for raffles and silent auctions. There was food, Jell-O shots, live music, a 360-degree photo booth and a synchronized witches dance performance at Caribbean Club.

Teachers Pam Caputo and Michele Thiery came up with the idea for the ride a decade ago. Never in her wildest dreams did Caputo think it would grow into the event it is today. The first year the ride raised $300, money they donated to pediatric cancer research. Now the ride raises thousands of dollars, all of the money going back into the community.

“When people know you’re doing good, they want to do good too,” Caputo said of the growing charity ride. Some of the money raised is earmarked for a scholarship established in 2018 in memory of Joey Patterson, an eighth grader who tragically died at the age of 13.

“Joey was a Keys kid in every way,” said Jackie Patterson, Joey’s mom. “This scholarship is a way of honoring Joey who was very much loved in our community. The purpose of the scholarship is to help well-deserving students in our community on their higher educational path,” added Patterson. 

Besides scholarships, money raised will also go to Upper Keys residents facing difficult times, including money to help a Key Largo School teacher who was diagnosed with breast cancer two days into the school year. She had to abruptly stop teaching to go into treatment. Other recipients will include a young woman from Islamorada suffering from lymphoma who travels to Minnesota for treatments at the Mayo Clinic and a fifth grader from Key Largo School fighting an autoimmune system condition that has left him wheelchair-bound. 

“The donations we get, we count it out, and it immediately goes out to people in need,” Caputo said.

One of the highlights of the Witches Ride every year is the group costume contest. This year, the Upper Keys Sailing Club mer-witches (mermaid witches) were beat out by a group from Plantation Yacht Harbor paying tribute to the late, beloved Jimmy Buffett. 

“It’s our ode to Jimmy Buffett,” said Stephanie Desangles.

That homage included some pretty loud “It’s 5’clock somewhere” button-down shirts and excellent attention to detail adorned hats that embodied Buffett’s songs and laid back lifestyle.

“We have a parrot, we have some margaritas, a cheeseburger in paradise, shark fins,” said Karla Desangles of the decorations on her tropical shade hat. “It’s so much fun; I love it.”

Caputo says it takes a team of almost a dozen volunteer witches to pull off this charity ride and it works because the community is always eager to help those in need.

“The donations are so heartwarming,” Caputo said.

Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.