Meet crazy and collected. Their words, not mine. But it’s more than a name, it represents their personalities. Alison being the crazy and Mallory being the collected. And they believe those seemingly opposite traits, help balance each other perfectly and will help them as they embark on their first Au Sable River Canoe Marathon.

Alison Van Melle and Mallory Horwath have been friends for 12 years. Horwath, who grew up in Grayling, said participating in the Au Sable River Canoe marathon has always been on her bucket list. In 2016 Van Melle was a vendor at the AuSable River Festival craft show and Horwath convinced her to come to the start of the race. “I literally only watched the start of one race, the gun went off and they are all running down the road and are gone and I turned to the people we were standing with and said, ‘I want to do that someday…literally one start of a race and I’ve been hooked,’” said Van Melle. Ever since that first races she’s been begging Horwath to participate and last year it finally fell into place.

Luckily for them, Horwath’s aunt and uncle are paddlers and let them borrow their boat for the whole season.  From the beginning, Crazy and Collected have been documenting their journey on social media, which prompted a lot of paddlers to reach out to them. “We’ve annoyed some of the best paddlers, ‘get in the river with us’ because we wanted to learn from the best. We have a good friend, Bryan Bears, I would say he’s predominantly been our coach. He is the best, super patient and has really taught us a lot.” They have also worked with Jeff Kolka and Eric Batway. “Eric was one of the first people we got in the river with that gave us a lot of information,” said Horwath. And of course, Horwath’s aunt and uncle, Jon and Ellen Thompson who they said have been very helpful and encouraging. “We bug my Aunt Ellen with questions a lot and Bill Mahaffy, we’re always asking him questions,” said Horwath.

It is clear that this community of paddlers, while fierce competitors, are also extremely loyal and do a lot to share their knowledge with rookie paddlers like Van Melle and Horwath. “Everyone calls the paddling community a family and it really is, it excites them when they have new people coming into the sport and I think they’ve loved what we’ve been doing because we’re literally documenting what it takes to be a rookie paddler, and there have been a lot of fails in that, which is kind of fun,” said Van Melle.

Crazy and Collected got their boat in September of 2022 and paddled into November. After flipping in November, they put the boat up and made a pact not to paddle again until spring. And then January rolled around and the mild weather was too much to resist. They got into the water in January and never stopped paddling. “December was the only time we really took off since we got our boat in September,” said Van Melle said. “We were really consistent with going to the gym throughout the winter, too,” Horwath said.

It has been a learning experience for Horwath and Van Melle. “We took a flip when the air temperature was 28 degrees but the water was like 42 degrees,” said Horwath. “But the river level was so high on the Kalamazoo river we got stranded and couldn’t get back into the boat. It was definitely a rookie move for sure.” They laugh about it now and say they wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. “It feels like every time something bad happens we learn from it, and we don’t do it again.”

Although they’ve encountered some difficult situations during their training, they both agree the biggest challenge is finding the time. “We have six kids between the two of us, we both have full-time very demanding jobs, our kids all do sports,” said Van Melle. When they started training, they knew they didn’t want it to affect the other areas of their lives, so that meant a lot of 5 a.m. trips to the gym or in the river. “Time has been the biggest thing. It’s not the challenges in the river, I’ll tell you that – that’s just driven us harder. I think it’s just finding the time,” said Van Melle.

It’s been a learning experience for both of them. While they’ve learned a lot about paddling in general, they have also learned a lot about themselves and each other.

“I think we are both strongheaded,” said Van Melle. “And counting on each other – not that we couldn’t count on each other, but this is a totally different level,” she said.

They also believe having a strong teammate has been important in the journey. “Make sure you have a strong teammate and partner who can hold you accountable,” said Horwath. 

Their goal is clear and has been the same since the beginning. As rookies about to embark on their first Au Sable River Canoe Marathon their goal remains the same as it was when they started training, “Our goal has always been to finish and to make all the cut off times and make it to Oscoda,” said Horwath. “And on top of that, to have fun,” said Van Melle. “If you’re doing it and not having fun, it’s not worth doing it.

They are also hoping to prove some of the doubters wrong. Crazy and Collected admit that they were rookies to the core when they started this. “I mean, we were real green, we did not know what we were doing” said Van Melle. “I think the other paddlers were real concerned, they were like ‘these girls,’” she said with a laugh.

Crazy and Collected believe anything is possible if you put your mind to it. But they also know their limits, “Oh we ain’t winning,” Van Melle said with a laugh. “Not in your lifetime, just finish, just make it to the end.” They know they have some doubters out there and they are going to do their best to prove them wrong. “I’m going to go find them and say ‘who said we couldn’t?’” said Van Melle with a laugh.

You can follow along with Crazy and Collected on Facebook and Instagram, @crazyandcollected.