Heading Offmain

At final bell, the doors of Haileybury Girls College erupt in a blinding sea of magenta and gold. Pigtail braids and white straw hats bob on top of crisp polo shirts, breezy pinstripe dresses, and nylon backpacks that look as big as their carriers. 

As students poured out onto the afternoon sidewalk, Stephanie Pond, already a little tall for her age, navigated the crowd with ease. Unlike her peers — whose next destinations were the many dance studios, football pitches, and performing arts centers of Dandenong North, Victoria, AUS — Steph was off to work. 

Sliding into a bench seat on the bus, Steph pulled a set of overalls out of her oil-scented backpack. Keeping an eye on the route, she pulled them on over her crisp school uniform, awkwardly forcing her sneakers through the legs. By the time she’d buckled up, pulled her long brunette hair back into a ponytail, and scarfed down a quick snack, it was nearly her stop.

Steph hopped off the bus in front of her second school — the 4X4 garage owned and operated by her dad. Walking through the open garage door past a chassis and a Jimmy on a lift, Steph greeted her dad, grabbed her tools, and got to work. Today’s task: rebuilding a winch.

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Two Uniforms

Did that kid grow up to be a knowledgeable four-wheel driver? You can only imagine. Steph walks the walk and talks the talk when it comes to off-roading and off-roading vehicles. But because she’s a woman, this expertise is not always the loudest in the room. She is still a kid in two uniforms. On the surface is a pair of overalls — and underneath, there’s a school uniform. 

Over the course of her life spent building vehicles, organizing navigation competitions, leading off-roading clubs, and camping in the bush, Steph has accumulated a wealth of information that’s frankly hard to match. She knows how to plan an off-roading build. She can pre-calculate and balance the weight of a vehicle, and pair that weight with the right suspension system on the first try, without experimentation. But she also knows where to get the best leggings for driving, how to keep a two-year-old safe and occupied on the trail, and how to manage life in the rugged outdoors. 

She wears the overalls and the skirt. And she feels right at home in both.

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Navigating Community

At age 12, Steph’s dad taught her to drive and they started competing in navigation events together. About ten years later, she began organizing them. She took a particular interest in organizing a kid’s competition that ran alongside an adult one, making room for entire families to come camp out and learn about off-roading.

Over time, Steph found herself gravitating toward the groups in the off-roading community led by and for women. It was an environment where her voice was heard and valued. It’s also where she met one of her best friends: Jess Saddlier. Steph and Jess met at a pub after a navigation competition event that Steph helped organize and Jess competed with some friends — and won.  

“Especially when it comes to driving, I learn so much better from other women. Women know each other. We know how to communicate. We know how each other's brains work. We just get one another. So, having these resources available for women, written by women, for women — it just makes sense.” – Jess Saddlier

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Nissan Sistas

Both Steph and Jess proudly own Nissan off-roading rigs. Steph’s Nissan Navara — built on 33-inch BFGOODRICH® Mud-Terrain T/A® KM3 tires — is an accurate reflection of her life. Part badass camping and touring vehicle, part “full-time mum wagon,” Steph even built a wall down the center of the canopy, with one side dedicated to her two great passions. One side is for overlanding, featuring a built-in fridge, power bank, and camp stove. The other side is open, ready to handle a load of groceries, her son’s bike, or whatever else the mum wagon may need to haul. 

“It’s been a long ride, but I really like how my vehicle is set up now. I love the kitchen, which I made look nice with some faux timber and fairy lights. I color-coded my bull bar and added custom rock sliders, so I feel really protected in my car. This was my first time buying a new off-road vehicle, and my instinct to protect the bodywork was strong,” – Steph Pond

Jess’ Nissan started out its life as a two-seater wagon. But after being kidnapped by some carjackers, Jess — a second-year mechanic’s apprentice — and her fabricator partner went to work rebuilding the vehicle from the chassis, up. They got a new cab, new suspension, added a huge winch, and rebuilt the engine. Deciding to focus on mods that added power and safety while off-roading, they ended up building a vehicle with minimal comforts, but maximal capabilities.

“Two seats, no AC, plus your swag gets wet, your chair gets wet, and you kind of just deal with it. I'm a person who's like, who cares, we're camping.’ Whatever goes wrong, or gets wet, you just live with it. For a long time, I didn’t even have a radio. It’s definitely not a luxury vehicle, but it can go basically anywhere. Its limits outdo mine.” – Jess Saddlier 

Steph and Jess brought their rigs and their skills out to the bush with BFGoodrich® Tires as a part of our latest global brand campaign. 

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Overlanders Overloaded

Around the world, when the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns hit, people turned to the great outdoors for a safe avenue for fun and stress relief. Australia was no different. In fact, within the first 12 months of lockdowns, the all-female 4x4 club that Steph and Jess helped organize saw a 400% increase in membership. The newcomers had a lot of questions that needed answering, and a thirst for adventure that needed quenching.

“Covid caused a ton of breakups, and there were all these women who joined our group saying ‘I used to go out driving and camping with my partner. We’re not together anymore, but I want to keep doing it.’ So they joined groups like ours.”  – Steph Pond

At first, this boom in the female four-wheel-driving community was fantastic. Steph and Jess were stoked about the newer, stronger sense of community and empowerment that the all-female group brought to their lives and their passions for four-wheel driving. But not long after the rush of new members arrived, Steph and Jess started to notice some troubling patterns. 

The huge influx of new drivers created a new, lower-middle-ground group of people who were more experienced than the newbies (and therefore felt qualified to start answering questions) but in reality, still had a lot to learn themselves. Suddenly, tons of information that was being shared in the group was inaccurate, misleading, or worse. Nothing was being vetted properly. It was a blurry-visioned-leading-the-blind sort of situation.

“There was a lot of misinformation, incomplete information, and confusion. The whole thing started feeling unsafe, frankly. And I knew we could do it better.” – Steph Pond

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Heading Offmain

The issues in her group got to a point where Steph knew she needed to take a step back and think. Sometimes, when you can’t get up a hill or over an obstacle on the trail, the right course of action is to turn around and seek another route to your destination. Ultimately, that’s what she chose to do. 

Steph took six months off from organizing trips and participating in off-roading groups entirely. But she wasn’t just taking a break; she was building. During that time, she focused on developing a website complete with a series of well-researched and thoroughly-vetted off-roading guides. And after standing up the site, she began planning what will amount to years of future partnership opportunities, community offerings, and valuable expert-written content. 

Pairing the empowering, beginner-friendly vibes of the female-led groups, with the in-depth expertise that she and her father have amassed about 4X4 vehicles, Steph aimed to create a community that forged a new path off the main drag of modern off-roading culture.

She calls it: OFFMAIN

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Full Selves Ahead

OFFMAIN has only just rolled off the lift. There’s a long journey ahead, but the potential is dizzying to think about. Steph has the know-how, the experience, and the support required to go the distance. Her dad and partner are on board today, and Jess is set to start helping in a larger capacity (she is an excellent trainer of off-roading skills) soon. 

This new resource will be a great many things for its members and community. But first and foremost, it will be a place where Steph, Jess, and everyone else can show up and be their full, outdoorsy selves. Showing up with every layer of expertise — the skirts, the overalls, and more. It’s clear that they have what it takes to meet the challenges ahead and create something uniquely great. Something that feels far off the main drag.

“The goal is to get to a place where everyone feels comfortable getting out there. If you want to see Australia, meet a bunch of cool people, and live a better more adventurous life, the support is there for you. Just do it. Don't hold back on anything.” – Jess Saddlier

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To keep up with Steph, Jess, and their OFFMAIN adventures, you can follow them on Instagram or check out their website.

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