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Iwona Deren is the last person you’d expect to pass on a remote trail in the Middle Eastern desert. But don’t let her long braids, colorful lipstick, or youthful optimism fool you — Iwona is not lost. She’s right at home solo camping on a cliff above the sea, cruising through the Arabian dunes, or crawling up the steepest faces of the Al-Hajar mountains. In fact, she’s one of the most widely-trusted guides for exploring these far-flung corners of the world. A skillful survivalist, navigator, and adventurer, Iwona is the sole creator behind Missions Offroad — a blog dedicated to off-roading and overlanding throughout the United Arab Emirates and beyond.
Iwona’s outsider status is her superpower. After moving to the UAE from Poland, she quickly noticed that good off-roading resources were lacking for the region. But she hesitated at first to begin creating them. She didn’t feel like she had enough knowledge about the area or the topic yet to write about it. Then, she realized that this was a valuable perspective after all. For others who were just starting out, her experience level was not only enough; it was the perfect amount to be approachable, digestible, and encouraging. This idea is something she’s kept in mind as she’s grown her platform.
“When you want to start something new, you might begin to research it and find only people who are already very successful at that thing. It can start to feel daunting very quickly. Many give up on new passions without even starting. I do my best to avoid that feeling on my blog, and so far, I’ve received a lot of positive feedback. It’s very encouraging to hear from readers that they purchased a Jeep or went somewhere new because of my story. It encourages me to keep going and keep learning, too.”
Like many passionate drivers, Iwona grew up hanging around a garage where her father worked as a mechanic. Her brother was equally into cars and dirtbikes, and, thankfully, it was never seen as something that was “only for boys.” The love of machines was a family affair. At home in Poland, cars were celebrated for their usefulness and fun. Camping was less prevalent, and it wasn’t something she got into until she moved to the Middle East after college.
Iwona came to the UAE in search of a job as an engineer in the petroleum industry. What she found instead was a way of life to call her own.
“My first solo camping trip was in Oman. Of course, I was scared — in that part of the world, a woman camping alone is unexpected and sometimes unwelcome — but I was also filled with an exciting sense of adventure. After a season or so, I ran out of new places to explore in my normal car. I wanted to do more. That’s when I started looking into off-roading. From my first desert drive, I was hooked.”
Getting an off-road-capable vehicle opened up a whole new world for Iwona. After careful consideration and multiple trips test-driving friends’ rigs, she purchased a 2018 Willys Jeep Wrangler. It only took a handful of trips to the mountains for her first set of tires to call it quits. Then, the search was on for a tire that could take her all over the diverse terrain of the UAE — from the coastal dunes to the rugged Al-Hajar mountains — while still functioning as a daily driver in Dubai, where she lives and works. She found the answer in a set of BFGoodrichⓇ KO2 All-Terrain T/AⓇ Tires.
“I’ve had my KO2s for three years now. I cannot even compare them to the previous tires I was using, especially with how they perform in the mountains. They've been very quiet on the road as well. I air up and down a lot but have no sidewall damage so far. These tires give me a lot of confidence.”
That confidence has taken Iwona up and down the country, capturing beautiful photos and producing insightful content while pushing herself to try new things and build new skills. Approximately the size of South Carolina, the UAE is not a huge country, but it is full of wonders and challenges for off-road enthusiasts. Iwona has no shortage of intriguing landscapes to explore.
“One of my favorite spots in the UAE is a mountain in Fujairah. I love it because it’s so difficult to get to. You need to drive about 40 minutes off-road. It's very steep, and once you enter the trail, there's no turning back. It's a bit scary, but you have to continue because you can’t turn around. There’s no other option but to press on. It's a very remote mountain, and getting to the top is incredibly rewarding. It has a view of the sea and then a vast landscape, totally free of human signs or buildings. Long ago, tribes lived in that region, but not anymore. It’s perfectly untouched.”
Iwona does things her own way and sees the world her own way, too. There’s a magical quality to her storytelling that makes each mission much more than a trip. It’s a gripping tale of adventure and transformation that would feel at home being told with a sparkle in her eye over a crackling campfire.
“I am preparing a series of stories from my trips to Musandam (Oman). Musandam is like Narnia. Once you cross the border, it feels like you are entering some magical land in a different dimension. Recently, they finished a dirt road that goes on and on for hours through high mountains and brings you down to a small fishermen's village by the coast called ‘Limah.’ Previously, this area was accessible only by boat or helicopter. I think I was the first foreign person to reach it by car.”
A rare find in its region and in the sport of off-roading at large, Missions Offroad is not your average off-roading guide company. And true to Iwona’s unique personality, it carries a unique purpose at its core: a different kind of mission.
“The purpose of many off-roading group trips is to have fun and get some adrenaline. I want a bit more than that. Off-roading and overlanding are fun, no doubt, but I am more interested in the element of wanderlust. Of journeying for your soul, filling your heart with anticipation, and setting off into the unknown.”
“I never wanted my blog to be just an off-road guide. This project has taken me on an epic journey towards believing in myself. One which I hope inspires others, too. A trip off-road can change you – it’s something that off-road guides don’t talk about enough! My mission, and what I’m building for, is to discover places where my heart feels free and to empower people, especially women, to get out of their comfort zone and do the same. It’s how I feel alive.”
You can join Iwona on her journey via her Instagram or by reading her blog.
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