Riding Victory and Flipping ‘Cakes for Clack
I remember the day like it was yesterday. We sat around a scorching hot griddle, a band of hungry motojournalists huddled like boy scouts around a campfire making S’mores. We poured buckwheat batter onto the sizzling surface, sprinkled in bananas and blueberries, flipped pancakes on our plates and feasted like kings. We shared in the camaraderie squeezing tightly around a table brings, laughter in the air, smiles on faces. Kind of hard not to smile when you’re in the company of Kyle Clack.
As Victory’s Media Relations guy, Clack had brought our group to the The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House in De Leon Springs State Park for the press launch of the Victory Gunner. Though I’d been to Daytona Beach Bike Week many times, I’d never been to the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill, and new experiences always make occasions that much more special. The area is rife with mystique, tales of a perennial hot spring being the fountain of youth, Civil War secrets and Santeria spells. Thanks to my first trip there, it is filled with the mystique of the enigmatic Kyle Clack.
This would be my first trip to Daytona Beach since Clack passed away. A brain tumor took him from this earth back in January, long before his friends were ready to let him go. Our last conversation, we outlined plans for an epic ride at Sturgis together, a journey we never got to take.
But I sense you in the warmth of the Florida sun as I’m heading up 92 on the Victory Magnum. The big bagger’s 1731cc V-Twin is pulsing with the strength you showed in going off chemo, the fortitude you displayed in letting nature run its course, the words “I Got This” you tattooed on your fingers. I’ve got the sound system cranked up, 100 watts thumping through six speakers, head bobbing to the beat. Traffic is light on a Monday morning, so I open it up a little, the Magnum powering along at 85 mph with little effort. The bike’s Stage 1 Tri-Oval Exhaust from Victory’s accessories catalog and different mapping is smoothing out flat spots in the stock powerband and is adding a few ponies, for sure. Clack enjoyed riding fast.
The Floridian landscape passes in my periphery, a blur of green. Seems like everything is green in the Florida spring, the grasses leading to the roadside channels, the impenetrable underbrush, the fronds of the ferns and palms. Miles melt away on the Victory Magnum, the bike’s aerodynamic fairing pushing air over and around, the bars falling naturally at hand, the seat scooped comfortably and big floorboards allowing me to stretch out and enjoy the ride in my sonic cocoon. Between the upright ergonomics, springy suspension, and spacious saddlebags, the Magnum is a motorcycle that could easily be ridden cross country in style and comfort. From all the thumbs up I’ve received, there’s no shortage of style on this bike, the Magnum’s new Suede Pearl White with Black & Silver colorway a big hit with the Bike Week crowd.
I’m rolling into De Leon Springs in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. The time warp I’ve been in slows to a crawl. The low rpm, second gear stroll brings my surroundings into focus, iron rails of a train track and cracks in the streets.
Inside the park, Spanish moss drapes off ancient oaks in a ghostly canopy. If only the oaks could talk, the Twainian yarns they could spin from the history they’ve lived. I turn the radio down not wanting to disturb the spirits of the dead, funny seeing how I’ve come here chasing my own ghost.
As always, The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House is packed. I put my name on the list, “Table for one, please.” A 45-minute wait gives me time to shoot pictures of the Magnum against the backdrop of the oaks, both bike and trees painting a powerful portrait. I find an open bench next to the park’s fabled spring, the water crystal clear. A group of scuba divers in the middle of the spring explores its depths. A shirtless local man in swimming trunks asks if I mind sharing a little space, places his towel on the bench next to me. Though it’s only March, his skin has been bronzed by the Florida sun. He tells me the pond is 30 feet deep in the middle and divers use it for training and that the water stays around 70 degrees year-round, except in the dog days of summer when it warms up even more. He says he swims here almost every day. Even though he’s got to be in his 70s, he’s lean and fit like a much younger man. Maybe the spring is the fountain of youth.
I sit at a table with a couple of Cincinnati snowbirds who migrate to Orlando to escape Ohio winters. I can feel their uncertainty about sharing a table with a stranger, my hair whipped by wind, my leathers weathered and worn. But banter soon breaks the ice. Common ground is struck when I tell them I’d just been to Cincinnati for the V-Twin Expo. When asked where I ate while I was there, they laugh when I say Skyline Chili, of course. I also told them a trip to Campanello’s is a tradition. Turns out they went to school with one of the owners, furthering melting the awkwardness of our initial meeting away.
I pour batter on the hot griddle, sprinkle in bananas and chocolate chips, stuff in a mouthful of Southern goodness thinking about my fallen friend. I tip my glass of milk in your honor. Before leaving, strangers sharing a simple table felt more like friends. Clack had a knack for making a positive first impression. Think Kyle would be proud.
A sense of calm envelopes me as I hop back onto the Magnum. And while I wish I could have dipped you in the mythical waters of the fountain of youth, my friend, on this day, I ride Victory and eat pancakes thinking of you.