Did you know that the SMART Ride is the second-largest AIDS fundraising bicycle ride in the U.S., and the only one to include the nation’s southernmost city of Key West? Now in its 18th year, the event has raised an astounding $12.5 million — with 100 percent of proceeds distributed among various AIDS service organizations throughout Florida, including the Florida Keys’ A.H. of Monroe County.

Participants in a past SMART Ride pedal across one of the Overseas Highway’s 42 bridges on their journey through the Keys.

Produced by TSR Adventures Inc., the SMART Ride 2021 will be held Friday and Saturday, Nov. 19-20. And it’s expected to draw as many as 500 solo riders, 250 volunteers, and multiperson teams of people ranging in age from 18 to over 70.

The 165-mile route, stretching from Miami to Key West, includes a scenic subtropical journey through the entire Florida Keys island chain along Overseas Highway and Heritage Trail routes. Along the way, riders will be welcomed by seemingly endless vistas of enchanting blue-green waters and balmy ocean breezes.

Each participant commits to raising a minimum of $1,250 in donations. However, the organizers are always confident the riders will go above and beyond their goals, with past year’s contributions averaging $1,800 per person.

Some of my favorite team names this year include “Love Always Wins,” “Flat Tire,” “Chain Reaction” and “Wheeling Warriors.”

The 2021 Smart Ride will be more critical than ever for the Florida health agencies it benefits. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have lost millions in funding because of fundraisers’ cancellations caused by COVID. Also, the demand for housing, food, and medical assistance has risen dramatically.

“This year will be even more exciting than usual since it will be the first time in two years that SMART Ride will happen in person,” said event founder Glen Weinzimer, who noted that the 2020 fundraising challenge wasn’t a group effort because of the global pandemic. “It will be very exciting to see all our participants back together again, making a difference.”

Riders are shown here gathered at Key West’s AIDS Memorial for closing ceremonies during a past year’s fundraising journey.

Our fundraising superstars will depart Friday from the University of Miami’s Watsco Center in Coral Gables.

Ride starts begin at sunrise, with participants pedaling approximately 100 miles to the picturesque Hawks Cay Resort located on Duck Key. Rest stops are available about every 15-20 miles, where volunteers eagerly wait to assist the riders.

Overnight housing will be at Hawks Cay, and participants will then resume their ride the following morning, traveling 65 miles southwest to Key West.

Please note that this year’s scheduled conclusion will be at Key West High School, with a private closing ceremony to avoid large crowds and protect against any potential spread of COVID-19 and its variants.

In the past, along with hundreds of well-wishers, I loved to applaud the riders at closing ceremonies held at the Key West Aids Memorial on the Atlantic Ocean pier at White Street. This year, although you can’t do it in person, you can still show them your love — just consider sponsoring one of our incredible “heroes on wheels.”

The ride concludes in Key West amid colorful architecture, unexpected outdoor artistry and  tucked-away gems. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

In addition, you can all keep up on all of the latest event updates and praise everyone’s fundraising accomplishments on the event’s Facebook page.

As in the past, Key West will roll out its renowned red carpet and host SMART Ride festivities throughout the weekend at some of the island’s leading LGBTQ venues.

And please note that all participants are required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the event.

If you’re headed for the Florida Keys and your plans include an overnight stay in Key West, don’t forget to call our popular LGBTQ hotels and ask about their fall and winter values. Whether you’re biking, driving or flying, we can’t wait to welcome you to our little slice of paradise.

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