First, what quilt/bag did you use on your AT trip?
Please view my Appalachian Trail gear list.
I used GoLite 2 person quilt that is no longer available. GoLite makes an excellent quilt today, but I prefer the JacksRBetter.com quilt, which is what I used for my CDT yo-yo trip.
I also talk about it in this post about quilts.
I'm a lightweight backpacker myself and I'm always looking to tweak my gear. Residing in Virginia, the AT is my stomping ground and I was saddened to hear that Shenandoah National Park ranked three out of three for parks on the AT. Yes Skyline drive runs right along side a good bulk of AT, but that can be a good thing too as it is a feeling of great security for folks who want to try the AT and fear getting lost in the wilderness. It is also a benefit for many to be able to jump off and find something to eat and a store within just a few steps off the trail. Lastly, SNP has a ton of family-style camping and it is wonderful for kids to be able to claim they set foot on the iconic AT while just steps away from their own tent. I should mention my wife also finds great comfort that I can hop off the trail any time I want in an emergency. Depite all of these things, people (somehow) still have problems. Being familiar with Backpackinglight.com yourself, perhaps you saw where Ken Knight, their editor, got lost in Virginia on the AT. I was with him on that trip. Considering the fact that he is visually impared, personally I was completely shocked he didn't get lost more often.
I agree with you that SNP is great for all the reasons you state. How would rank the SNP, Whites, and Smokies?
Second, did you bring two emergency blankets for both of you and what was your experience with their wear as a ground cloth?
I only brought one space blanket for both of us and it worked well as a ground sheet, but after 15 days or so, it usually begins to deteriorate. Just be careful where you camp, clean up debris before laying the sheet. I've had them last 30 nights, but that's pushing it. It's ok if there are a few holes and even tears. It will still work, but at some point it will completely fall apart.
If you want something more sturdy, consider the sheets made by GossamerGear.
BTW, I used a space blanket one night during the first 70 miles of my PCT hike. I didn't have a sleeping bag, so I only used the space blanket. Good news: it works!
Third, do you happen to have a menu or meal list of items you brought? I'm not a vegan, in fact, quite far from it at at 6'6" 280 pound Type-1 diabetic. But, anything to help my ailments is worth considering and I think your argument for eating vegan was more compelling than others (not the "I hate plants" bit though as I find plants to be quite non-confrontational).
I write about my backpacking menu in this post. Or just read this food summary.