Nathaniel "Nate" Ashborne spends his dreary life working at the Food Baron supermarket, a task he performs with limited enthusiasm. When Nate moves into his friend's Steve Adams and Derek Wilkins' apartment, it doesn't take long before he meets the spunky girl Rose Crowley. They get off to a good start, quite good in fact. Really... very... good. It looks like this could be the turning point of Nate's crappy life, but there are two problems: Rose is known as the neighbourhood bicycle, and she's 17 years old.
The comic follows Nate and Rose, as well as their friends and work pals, as they try to make their relationship, jobs, school and life in general work out. The script and dialogue is fast and sassy, and the humour is direct and disrespectful, with some of the situations Nate encounter in the supermarket taken from the author's personal experience. Occasionally, some pages are marked NSFW, mostly due to Rose.
The comic has had a long life due to ongoing breaks in the author Nick Wright's attention; only 77 strips were between 2003 and 2006. From February 2010 onward, he finally managed a steady Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, producing the remainder of the 251-strip plotline in less than a year and a half. The webcomic concluded on Friday July 8th, 2011. He briefly started a sequel series, Peached, featuring two of the supporting characters of Treading Ground going off to college in Atlanta, but put it on indefinite hiatus and shifted his focus to working as a writer and producer for That SciFi Guy (to the point where he redirected the website for said sequel comic into a website for that show).
Treading Ground provides examples of:
- All Men Are Perverts: Nate writes a book titled How to Get Laid, consisting of only two instructions, one for men and one for women. For women, the instruction was to simply walk up to the nearest man and grind against him suggestively.
- All Women Are Lustful: Rose, her mother and her sister all have a big sexual appetite, as well as Tracy later on.
- Art Evolution: Compare this to this
- Brand X: The Food Baron supermarket chain.
- Camp Straight: Butch Straight: Aya almost always wears flannel shirts and listens to Tegan & Sara, among other stereotypical lesbian behaviours, but is totally straight. She gets Mistaken for Gay often enough that it annoys her, especially after going to college in Peached.
- But I Would Really Enjoy It: "I'm a sexual hypocrite."
- Can't Hold His Liquor: Can't Hold Her Liquor: Aya. At one point, she gets drunk off a single O'Doul's (which has about 10% of the alcohol content of a standard American beer).
- Cerebus Syndrome: A relatively mild example, but the comic started out as a lighthearted comedy about Nate and Rose's Jailbait Wait and his interactions with his roommates and coworkers. Then Rose got impatient with the wait, and it took a turn for the dramatic.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Purvous is mentally challenged and more than a little... strange.
- Gold Digger: From Nate's book, How to Get Laid, his only instruction for men regarding the matter was "become rich".
- Idiot Ball: The day after Nate dumps Rose, Aya talks him into making up with her. He comes to meet her and apologize, and Rose pulls an impromptu Operation: Jealousy before he can say a word. It goes over about as well as it would in real life. The light bulb goes on after Aya chews her out, but by then the damage is already done.
- If It's You, It's Okay: Rose and Aya are both ostensibly straight, but Rose admits she thought about propositioning Aya during a dry spell.
- Incest Is Relative: One of the routers in the trailer-park is "aint nobody fucken my sister but me".
- The Jail Bait Wait: The entire foundation of the plot. The last panel of this comic is also that trope's current title picture.
- Jerkass: Arne, Nate's supervisor and Nate's roommate Steve.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: After the disastrous Operation: Jealousy, Rose starts having meaningless sex with Trevor (whom she doesn't even like), telling herself that it doesn't matter now that Nate wants nothing to do with her.
- Ludicrous Gibs: Category 4 roadkill.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Rose starts out hitting this trope pretty hard.
- Operation: Jealousy: Rose thought her best friend wanted her to do this, and went ahead with it before she could explain. It put the final nail in her relationship's coffin instead.
- Raging Stiffie: Nate gets one, and isn't a fan of the "Up periscope" trick.
- Right Behind Me: Subverted with Nate's reaction. And Arne's.
- Shout-Out: to Ai Yori Aoshi here. Subverted in a sense, as it's merely a result of the author using his old DeviantArt works for random posters rather than out of the desire to intentionally make a shout out to the work.
- SoCalization: Lampshaded here.
- Spin-Off: There's a sequel focusing on Aya going to college.
- Urban Legend Love Life: Despite rumors to the contrary, Rose has only had sex with three guys. Granted two of those were at the same time. And at only 17 years old, 3 partners is nothing to sneeze at.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: Les regains his former position as a butcher, and even gets a date with his ex, Lilith.
- Yaoi Fangirl: Derek's unseen ex-girlfriend, as well as Nate's.
- And then Lampshaded by Nate in the very next panel.