Here's our route from Front Royal to Waynesboro — all in Virginia:
Hooray for comments!
Some of the people who we meet are thru-hikers, and some are section-hiking, and some are just out for a few days. (There are of course the Day Hikers. As someone wrote in a shelter log: "God bless y'all, but you're different.") Aboo, and Stump, and Django, and Turtle Hawk and Silver (trail names are funny) are all sobo thru-hikers, but are also all going faster than us so we probably won't run into them too much. (The first three are around our age; the last couple are a mid-50s husband and wife from Georgia who freeze-dried their own meals and were glad to be in on a Just So Stories reading.) Moon Pie was a nobo thru hiker, finishing up a couple sections in VA that he missed. People frequently mention names that they've been following in the trail registers for weeks — or half the trail — which sort of develop celebrity (or stalkee) status. Jo expects we'll eventually develop a "hiker family" — people hiking about the same pace — but if people who've zipped by us end up getting sucked into towns, or taking zeroes, we may cross paths with them again.
Shenandoah has been very kind: one of my favorite things about it is that there are old-orchard apple trees sprinkled around, so every now and then you can get a little supplemental fresh fruit. But, in terms of food, there are also Waysides: basically gas station + convenience store events, just a ways off the trail, where one can get a real (fast-food) meal and do an intermediate resupply. (We also decided, after ten days, to have real beds and showers in a lodge — not to mention dinner and breakfast — which was deliriously refreshing: we both sort of lay in bed glowing after our showers.) In terms of terrain, it's been fairly gentle, too; having done the roller coaster first (which was all up and down), it's easy to see how coming north it would be a dreadful shock after SNP.
The first three nights we stealthed; I think we've tent-camped twice since then, and the rest in shelters (excepting a night at Big Meadows lodge). Shelters are great for the convenience of not having to pitch and re-pack the tent (especially if, as has happened twice, it sprinkles a bit), and usually come with a spring and a bear hang (a pole with a big trident to lob your food up onto, as opposed to stringing it up in a tree), and are a mixed bag for company. Some nights it's been great: lots of stories from other hikers about favorite hostels and characters and the like. (I've recorded a couple hiker conversations, which I intend to process and post sometime; that might not happen on the trail.) In one shelter (Rock Springs) I ended up spending the night with a boy scout troop — which turned out to be uneventful, just amusing (hopefully yours was friendly too, Phil!) — and some we've had to ourselves. But we've also ended up having some unrelished company.
In the tents-and-shelter vein, we've also run into some hammock users. Not having to look for a flat and rock-free site is tempting, as is less weight; and (hi to my mom who recently got a hammock!) some of the hammock users have recommended putting a sleeping bag around the outside of the hammock for insulation, or cutting a foam pad to be oblong (since a ThermaRest zips out from under one), since otherwise air cooling underneath seems to be an issue.
Shelters are a fun inter-hiker opportunity in other ways, too. We've found and left a few books (though not as many as hoped for; and sometimes in parts!), and I got crayons in Front Royal, which we've been using on the trail registers and a few of which we've been leaving in each shelter for future amusement.