Monday, August 11, 2014

Cakeway to the West - Confessions of a Cakeaholic

butterfly at Cardinal Glennon Hospital
When I took my first photograph of one of the stl250 cakes back in March, I had no intention of trying to visit all 250 of them. I figured I would snap pictures as I came across the cakes, as I did with the "Wings in the City" butterflies back in 2011, and the cat and dog sculptures of "The Harry and Hanley Project" in 2013. Little did I know that the call of the cakes would pull me in like the smell of hot, buttered popcorn at a movie theater. And like that box of popcorn, I would not be able to stop until they were all gone. Soon I was planning my days around cake hunting. And at night I dreamed of cakes. I even made a t-shirt showcasing a few of my favorite cakes. I am not alone in this obsession. There are over 1,700 of us in just one of the Facebook groups, sharing tips, trials and support in addition to photos. Through the group I have attended picnics, a group photo op, a wine and canvas party, discussions of possible books, and the camaraderie of folks just as excited about the hunt as me.

my t-shirt front

my t-shirt back


They are the ones who understand that we could adopt "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" as our theme song. "Ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low enough, ain't no river wide enough..." to keep us from our cakes. From as far west as Warrenton, Missouri to the eastern reaches of Carlyle, Illinois; from the northern point of Hardin, Illinois to the southern point of Sullivan, Missouri, the 250 cakes were a challenge for even the most sophisticated GPS system or smart phone. But help was always just one Facebook post away. Can't find a cake? Post the question on the Facebook page. Want to know if there are other cakes in the area? Where to park? Or how about a good place to eat while you are there? One of the cakers would always reply, usually within minutes of the post.

Mainly I traveled alone on my treks, though my husband did accompany me a couple of times and a friend and I planned several excursion together. My niece accompanied me on one of the Illinois adventures. I don't even want to know how many miles I put on my car, though a fellow caker said she had documented 5,000 miles! Is that possible? Perhaps...But here is what I do know. Through the Cakeway to the West cake hunt I have experienced more of the greater St. Louis area in six months than in the 36 years I have lived here. I have pushed my comfort level on multiple occasions. I have been to sites that I did not know even existed, and re-visited places I had not been to in years. I have met some incredible people both in the caker group and at the cake locations, and have been privileged to meet several of the cake artists.

Facebook caking friends
Last Sunday, over 50 of us from the Facebook group, and one of the artists, met at the Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park in East St. Louis for a group photo and breakfast. After that I headed north in Illinois to find my last five cakes. By 4:30 that afternoon I had accomplished what had initially seemed impossible. I had visited and photographed all 250 cakes. Like some of the others in the 250 Club, I have mixed emotions about the journey being over. (Though as of right now 251 cakes have been placed, and rumor has it that there will be 254 before it is all said and done. I haven't decided if I will get any of the rest, because to me it takes away from the whole 250 theme.) There are still a few frame of reference shots that I want to take, and I think getting some fall and winter photos of the cakes would be fun as well.

my 250th cake in Hardin, Illinois
As I have been doing research in preparation for putting together a book about my cake walk, I have come to understand what a truly remarkable area we live in. The history of the city, the buildings and the people who once called St. Louis home are inspiring. And I think that was the goal of the Cakeway to the West project. I would call it a success!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

High School Reunion Two

The down side of my husband and me graduating from high school the same year (but not the same place) is that we have to juggle two class reunions in the same summer. While I am fortunate in that Jim knows some people from my class either through marriage or college, I do not have the same luck with his classmates. I met a couple of the guys back in 1976 or so, and perhaps a couple came to our wedding. Nothing to carry on more than a few sentences worth of conversation, for sure. But one classmate was a fraternity brother of Jim, and we went to his wedding. His wife and I are friends on Facebook, and thank goodness they came to the reunion this year. Alicia and I were able to entertain each other for two nights.

My in-laws still live in the town where Jim grew up, so it was wonderful to be able to stay with them and have a nice visit. As usual, we ate way too much. Homemade cinnamon rolls and brownies - oh my! It was hard to climb back in the saddle with my personal trainer this week for sure.

As luck would have it, two of the St. Louis birthday cakes were on our way up to Iowa. We were able to get the brand new cake at the August Busch Conservation Area as well as the one at Woods Fort in Troy, Missouri. They are both really nice, and located in interesting settings.

August Busch Conservation Area

Woods Fort

The night before we left for Charles City, I went to a Wine and Canvas party that was put on by Genevieve Esson, the artist for 4 of the cakes. She provided the paint and the canvases, and we were each to bring a photo of our favorite cake to paint. In my case, I had to narrow it down to my favorite cake that I thought would be possible to paint. Nine cakers showed up for the party, and did we ever have fun! It was not easy, but Genevieve and another artist helped with any questions we had. I was able to finish my cake in the time allowed, except that I did not have time to add the stl250. That is something I might try to put on, as it is a big part of what this is all about, in my estimation.

My inspiration cake at the Alton Visitors Center, and the finished product

This Sunday a group of us from the Cakeway to the West Facebook page are gathering at the Malcolm Martin Park across the river for a photo shoot and light breakfast. After that, my friend Caren and I will head to Alton and north to get my remaining five cakes. The end is in sight - except rumor has it that more cakes are being added. It ain't over until the last cake is placed!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Cakeway to the West - Head East!

Eugene Field House
On Saturday my niece Julie joined me on the cake hunt. There are a good number of cakes in Illinois, and a few are located in areas where it is best to have a travel buddy with you. (The same can be said for a few in Missouri as well.) I had ten cakes on the route for the day, but I wasn't sure if Julie would be up for doing all of them. Not everyone is as obsessed as me, and I get that. Because she had a meeting early in the morning, I stopped at the Eugene Field House Museum on the way over to Illinois to pick her up. This is one of the handful of cakes that is located inside, so you have to pay attention to hours. I arrived just after the museum was opening at 10:00. The guide was in the process of telling two women about the cake, and how it hadn't really been painted to their specifications. I could see what he was saying as the cake really had nothing to do with the history of the home or its owner. But I also know that many of the artists had no idea where their cake would be placed; thus some of the cakes make no sense in relationship to their locations. Nevertheless, it is a pretty cake and I was happy to check it off my list.

Julie and I had a hard time locating Malcolm Martin Memorial Park, and I wished that I had brought my car with the GPS. Even Siri failed me - probably wondering what in the heck I was doing in that neighborhood. When we eventually stumbled upon it - oh my! What a lovely park, and the best setting ever for one of the cakes! We definitely want to come back to the park with a picnic lunch so that we can watch the fountain explode, reaching a maximum of 600' - the same height as the Arch. (That only happens at noon, 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.)
Malcolm Martin Memorial Park
We picked off all the cakes in East St. Louis before heading out to Cahokia Mounds, and then on to the World's Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville.

Cahokia Mounds
World's Largest Catsup Bottle
From there we drove to the Scott Field Heritage Park at Scott Air Force Base. Located outside the gates of the base, thankfully, this small park is home to several Air Force Military planes. I couldn't help but think how much my dad would have enjoyed seeing them. After that it was time for lunch so we went across the street to a strip mall. I like to try new places when I am out caking, so we skipped the two chain restaurants there and went into Chicago Fish-Chicken-Grill. We each got a salad, and they were huge and very tasty. With our stomachs full, we drove on to Carlyle to capture the Clinton County Courthouse cake. That was quite a drive on the back highways! I was at least hoping that I would get to see an historical courthouse, but this one is relatively new.
Clinton Co. Courthouse cake

Clinton County Courthouse
The last two stops were to the Sky View Drive-In and Our Lady of the Snows, both located in Belleville. I have never been to this drive-in before, and it has been a long time since I have been to the shrine. It looks like they have made a lot of changes there, so I definitely need to go back.

Old Cahokia Courthouse

Before I dropped Julie off at home, we made a quick pass by the Old Cahokia Courthouse. While I already had a photo of the cake there, I had neglected to take a picture of the courthouse. Julie had never seen it before, so she was fine with tagging along. All in all, we had a really good time together. She was a great sport and an excellent navigator. And I guess I didn't scare her off, because she said she would like to go out with me again.

There are now 246 cakes installed throughout the greater (emphasis on "greater") St. Louis area. With the 11 cakes I got on Saturday, I have 234 of them photographed. It is time consuming to catalog and edit the photos, getting them ready to put into a book. I also am researching a little about each site so I can add a description to each cake. One thing I can say for sure is that there are a lot of places in the area that I had no idea existed. And that is part of the fun of the hunt.