On the day after Irene we had beautiful weather and I went for a 40 mile ride on the Seven roadbike that I scandalously still have on loan (and will soon be reviewing). Though a preliminary cleanup of the roads had already taken place, branches and other debris were still scattered in some areas and I thought the biggest challenge would be cycling on narrow tires. However, that part was fine - the wheels rolled easily over the occasionally unavoidable obstacle, with the bike either retaining or quickly regaining stability every time. But toward the end of the ride I began to feel as if the rear wheel had an odd little bounce to it. It was barely perceptible, but I decided to stop and check it out - thinking it was probably a flat tire. What I saw was very different: The quick release of the rear wheel was open and the wheel was sitting completely loose in the dropouts. At first I thought that the lever was broken or the skewer had somehow snapped. But everything was fine and once I re-secured the wheel the bike was good to go. My theory is that a tough little branch must have gotten jammed in there, prying open the quick release. I suppose it was lucky that the wheel did not come out of the dropouts entirely, and lucky that the branch did not jam the spokes.
Later I told the Co-Habitant about my mishap. "This is why you need to face the quick release lever inward and not outward," he warned. I don't actually remember how it was positioned before the incident (and honestly I think it's possible for things to catch on it regardless), but I will keep it in line with the chainstays from now on.
As tempting as it is to derive lessons from this, I think these things can happen regardless of how many precautions you take. I had been debating whether to take the Seven on that ride or a wider-tired, fendered bike - but it would not have mattered; this could have happened to any bicycle with quick release wheels. I think the only lesson here is that it's important to pay attention to your bike - even to what may seem like subtle weirdnesses in handling - and stop to check it out if something feels odd. It could be nothing. Or it could be your wheel about to come off.