On the offbeat island of Key West, even the zombies defy stereotypes. Instead of stumbling through dark wastelands in tattered clothes — as often portrayed in films and TV shows — Key West’s zombies are to hop on their bikes and pedal beside the Atlantic Ocean Sunday, Oct. 22, during the annual Zombie Bike Ride.
Which means, of course, that thousands of otherwise rational Florida Keys locals and soon-to-be visitors are now planning spooky costumes, shredding perfectly good garments, and pondering the placement of painted-on scars.
And if you intend to join the oddly lively event for “the biking dead,” it’s time to start preparing your own zombie garb.
A pre-Halloween tradition for visiting and local families and groups, the ride typically draws several thousand creatively costumed men, women and children — and even a few animal companions. They cycle along the island’s shores and streets sporting everything from chalk-white face paint and ragged clothing to quirky “zombified” tutus, pirate attire and wedding gowns.
Of course, it takes a lot of work to turn a more-or-less-normal human into a zombie (even without employing voodoo sorcery or a mad scientist’s fiendish schemes).
Luckily, participants in the Zombie Bike Ride can get help with their transformations. At 2 p.m. Oct. 22, “Zombieland” opens at Fort East Martello Museum (a particularly suitable location, since the iconic oceanside fort is widely believed to be haunted).
There, face and body painters will be on hand to create the dead-pale features, red-rimmed eyes, random scars and other unnerving elements vital to the “zombie look.”
As well as unleashing their inner zombies, “Zombieland” attendees can enjoy music, food and beverages from on-site vendors, and a kids’ zone with age-appropriate fun.
At 6 p.m., the spooky cyclists will depart on their prowl. The 4-mile route takes them down South Roosevelt Boulevard beside the Atlantic, past Smathers Beach and Higgs Beach, and into parts of Key West’s hauntingly picturesque Old Town.
In previous years, Zombie Bike Rides have drawn as many as 8,500 participants (including, on one memorable occasion, a dog whose costume featured two extra heads). And spectators line the route to check out the unearthly antics.
Among the standouts in the 2022 trek were a supersized sorcerer, a “zombie ambulance” and a cemetery escapee propelling a pseudo-coffin. Other participants portrayed everything from zombie prisoners to superheroes — and enough creepy clowns to populate a circus.
The 2023 cavalcade is to travel down Key West’s famed Duval Street, startling unsuspecting pedestrians along the way, and head for the ZombieFest After Party at the wonderful Coffee Butler Amphitheater in Truman Waterfront Park.
Admission to the party is free and scheduled attractions include food vendors, a full bar, dancing, prizes for best zombie ensembles, and tunes spun by DJ Sanaris.
The Zombie Bike Ride, by the way, is only the beginning of Key West’s pre-Halloween revelry. The ride takes place on the first weekend of Fantasy Fest, the outrageous annual costuming and masking festival that runs through Sunday, Oct. 29.
This year’s festival theme is “Uniforms and Unicorns … 200 Years of Sailing into Fantasy” to salute the Florida Keys’ 2023 bicentennial and that of the U.S. Navy in Key West — in addition to the islands’ “unicorn-like” individuality and mystical appeal.
Therefore, the Zombie Bike Ride is sure to feature plenty of “the biking dead” in uniform … and a never-before-seen species that will likely be dubbed the “zombie unicorn.”