I LOVE cake shows! I have driven across the United States to enter a show and enjoy every bit of my trip. My shortest drive was one and a half hours; my longest was 22 hours. There are a few keys to make attending a show much more enjoyable. First and foremost, remember this is supposed to be fun! If you drive to a show thinking only about winning, your experience will not be good if you fail to reach that goal. If you go looking forward to seeing what all the talented people will bring, to meet and make new friends and to challenge yourself to do your personal best, then you will come home in love with the cake show experience.
Before you go:
1. Make sure you have read the rules for the show you are attending and ensure that your entries comply with their particular requirements. Each show is different.
2. Email the show coordinator and offer your help while you are there. If you regularly demo or teach, offer those skills. All shows need “cake guardians” to keep the public from touching. This is a great way to help the show, pass the time and meet lots of people.
3. Pack your cake. If it is a smaller entry, it may be fine in a traditional cake box. If it is a tiered cake, you want to use a sturdy cardboard box and cut down one side of the box. Tape 3 flaps at the top together so they will not fall down on your cake. Then you can slide your cake in and out. Be sure to put non-skid in the box to hold the cake in place. Once the cake is in, use masking or packing tape to hold the front flap in place. Remember to pack the tape for later! Use a sharpie to label the box.
Before I box each cake, I give it a “shake” test. If I can shake the cake and nothing moves, it is ready to travel. (How many of you just gasped?!! If your cake cannot survive a little shake at home, it will have a rough time getting to the cake show.) Loose pieces must be packed separately. If flowers or other fragile pieces need separation, use toilet paper or Kleenex. Cotton catches on the pieces; foam can sometimes break them. Put cleats under your cake boards to make it easier to get your fingers under them…especially the larger, heavier cakes!
4. Packing for the trip. Once you have all your clothes and traditional repair kit items for your cake, you might want to add a few more things.
a. Allergy and pain medication. You never know how your nose will react in another place and my friends and I are always happy to have sinus medicine with us. You will be stiff and sore from working on your entries, from driving, from standing at the show and from sleeping in strange beds, so take your aspirin, advil or whatever.
b. A heating pad or icy hot back patches. My friends and I have discovered that you sleep much better if you heat your back right before you fall asleep. Muscles relax, you forget about the hotel bed and you will wake more refreshed.
c. Maps, maps, maps! For me and my friends, we prefer Mapquest and a GPS. I’ve always driven straight to my destination with no problems. Sometimes your phones lose signal, so have a back up plan!
d. Car and In-Room chargers for your telephone.
e. Camera, memory cards, extra batteries and/or a charger.
f. Extra set of keys for your car—I’ll explain why later!
g. Your favorite pillow.
h. Damaged in Transit signs. Some shows provide them, but have a couple of your own…just in case something breaks on the drive. Place it by your cake before judging so the judges know you did not intentionally place a broken flower or whatever on your cake.
i. Business cards with an email address for all the new friends you will make.
5. Have your vehicle serviced. Take the vehicle to your favorite service center and make sure that the oil, tires, coolant, etc. are all in good condition before you set out. If you have a roadside emergency kit, this is the time to be sure it is in your car.
6. Check the forecast. Between the internet and the Weather Channel, you can find out the predictions for the time you will be there. I’ve arrived with my friends at shows only to find that we needed to go buy warmer or cooler clothes!
7. Book a room. If possible, look for rooms with microwaves and refrigerators. If you are working on your cake in your room, these could be lifesavers. Consider asking for a room on the bottom floor or near an elevator if you plan to work on your cake in your room.
8. Get a good night’s rest. Especially if you are embarking on a cross country drive, you will want to start the trip fresh.
9. Take a cart. If you have the room, a cart can make the loading/unloading process a breeze. If your cart does not collapse or fold, make sure you have it tied down or properly braced so it will not move. I have folding carts that lock in place. I can load cakes and delicate items on them for travel. They aren’t cheap, but they are sturdy and reliable. Mine are made by Carlisle.
On the Trip:
1. Take a cake buddy. Carpooling to shows cuts your costs and doubles your fun. Take the vehicle that holds the entries best. Don’t forget that you have to have room for luggage and (usually) room for the prizes you win and goodies you buy. I’ve had to sacrifice entries for the “good of the group” and let a cake be destroyed to fit things in for the trip home.
2. Allow extra time. If your map tells you it will take 7 hours to get there, allow yourself a couple of extra hours leeway. Many of us at OSSAS will remember when Gary Silverthorn made it to the Oklahoma Show late because he got lost on his trip. While the show director allowed him to compete, you should never rely on someone making an exception for you. When possible, I arrive the night before and then place my cakes the day of the competition.
3. Allow setup time. If you wait until the last 30 minutes of setup to show up with your cake, you will be stressed for most of the morning. It could take a while to get checked in and fill out the judges’ information sheets. My friends and I try to get there as close to start of the setup time as possible. Once we have everything in place, we are able to do any repairs without feeling pressured by time.
4. Be prepared for the weather. We arrived in Maryland for the Mid-Atlantic show on a cool, overcast day. The first entries to unload were just fine…then the skies opened. Our cakes were in boxes, so we moved them in just fine, but we saw people without boxes trying to hold trash bags and umbrellas over their entries to get them inside. Of course, rain drops were all over many entries at that show. Plan for your worst case scenario.
5. Watch the weather on your trip. If you stop to go eat on the way, the cakes in your vehicle can suffer in the elements. I left a cake in my car on a hot day only to discover later that my cocoa butter painting had “heated” and the cocoa butter ran down the cake. A friend had flowers freeze in her trunk on a trip. One watched flowers wilt from humidity. If you are worried, leave your car running to maintain the proper conditions. (Lock the car with your spare set of keys I told you to bring!) If you are stopping overnight, take your cakes into the hotel if you feel they are at risk. If your cake isn’t boxed, remember that the natural light might fade your colors and it might only fade the part facing the window, leaving you with a two-toned cake!
6. Stack your boxes wisely for travel. I put mine in sturdy boxes and put a piece of non-skid between every box. My vehicle is usually packed to the gills, so I don’t have much chance for movement of my boxes. If your vehicle won’t be that full, you can also use packing tape to hold the boxes in place. Your most fragile items should go on top or on your cart.
7. When you arrive, ask for help unloading if you need it. Many shows have helpers, carts or husbands available to help you get heavy pieces in place. The helpers can also show you where to place your cake. Make sure you check in at registration before you place any cakes!! Follow all the procedures they give you at the registration desk.
8. If you see work you admire or a technique you’ve had trouble with, ask around to find someone who can help you. This is the time to seek out the “free advice” readily available.
9. Be gracious, win or lose. Remember, every show is judged differently. Your cake could win first one time and not place the next time. To some degree, it is a lot like Vegas. You can only control your work. The judge’s preferences and the other entries present can influence the outcome. Thank the show organizers for their work (they are all unpaid volunteers) and thank the vendors by shopping as you can and by writing thank you notes for raffle prizes you receive. In the end, don’t forget that it is for the love of Sugar and the ribbon will never be as valuable as that feeling of accomplishment you had when you looked at your completed cake for the first time. You have to do this because you love the design you are making…not to win.